Republicans Get Emotive 

The Far Right Tries to Dig Into Grassroots

By Theresa Reed

If Matt Lewis has his way, Oregon will witness the return of the "compassionate conservative" and a rise in successful Republican political campaigns and candidates. This self-identified "wacky, ultra conservative" cheerleader for the Far Right has been proclaimed a "rising star of politics" by Campaigns and Elections Magazine and is Director of Grassroots for the Leadership Institute in Arlington, Virginia. On June 27 and 28 he was certainly the star of the show when the Institute held its Grassroots Activism School at the Portland Airport Shilo Inn.

Approximately 50 people attended last weekend's workshop. Ranging in age from teenagers to elderly, they were primarily white and male. Although the workshop was a veritable Reagan-era lovefest, the information provided by Lewis and other instructors contained a good deal of non-partisan common sense. Topics covered included voter identification and contact methods, opposition research, and use of volunteers.

While entreating attendees to avoid the "sleazy habits of the left," Lewis and other speakers repeatedly drew upon examples from liberal campaigns to illustrate the importance of reaching voters on an emotional level. It is something, explained Lewis, that conservatives have failed to do recently. Lewis pointed out that the conservatives' strength has relied on the use of logic to promote and defend their views--but that such an approach has not resonated with voters as well as the allegedly more emotional methods used by liberals.

The question whether to go emotional or stay cerebral seems to be a central conflict for conservative leaders hoping to woo voters in Oregon. Like the Pacific Greens who benefited from an exodus of Democrats looking for a more extreme political party, during the 2000 elections the ultra-conservative Constitution Party received an infusion of voters and candidates looking for someone to represent their views on moral and emotional issues. The Constitution Party unwaveringly opposes gay rights, abortion, and welfare. Several members of the Constitution Party, including state chairperson Bob Ekstrom, attended last weekend's seminar.

But that "emotional" approach may not be what other conservative voters are looking for, according to several attendees at the workshops. Even while browsing through pamphlets about the religious rights of students and the 2002 Christian Coalition Voter Guide, some Republicans who attended the Activism School privately complained that their party no longer stood for limited government and lower taxes, but was focusing too much on social issues. Indeed, the words "pro-life" and "anti-abortion" were heard far more often from instructors during the weekend than were the words "fiscally conservative" or "smaller government."

For more information about the Leadership Institute and their hope to ignite a conservative grassroots campaign, check out: leadershipinstitute.org.

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