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Special Event

Republican National Convention: Religious Conservatives the Most Faithful GOP Constituency

Aired July 31, 2000 - 9:47 a.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: In just about 12 minutes, the gavel will come down, the Republican National Convention will convene, officially come to order. And as Bernie promised you just a moment ago, we are going to give you a look at the inside of the Republican Party. Who are these Republicans? Who are these delegates.

And for that, let's go down to the floor to, once again, to Jeanne Meserve who's in the Florida section -- Jeanne.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN FLOOR CORRESPONDENT: Judy, the delegates here are overwhelmingly white. They are predominantly male, middle- class, a lot of them are lawyers, and they tend to be conservative. Are they reflective of the party? Here's a snapshot of the Republicans.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(voice-over): Just who does the Republican Party suit? It's largest and most faithful constituency: religious conservatives who are mostly fundamentalist Protestants.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Pray that God will have his way.

MESERVE: They have voted Republican by as much as 80 percent in some elections.

GEOFF GARIN, DEMOCRATIC POLLSTER: They've gone from being a pressure group within the Republican Party to being the heart of the Republican Party, and certainly the most reliable part of the Republican vote.

MESERVE: Republicans are strongest in the South, Southwest, Rocky Mountain and plain states. Polling tells us 95 percent of Republicans are white, 54 percent are male. They tend to have higher incomes than Democrats do and they are very often married.

ED GOEAS, REPUBLICAN POLLSTER: A married baby boomer with children at home. If you fit that profile, you're about 70-30 more likely to be a Republican than a Democrat.

MESERVE: A few general principles unite Republicans.

JIM NICHOLSON, RNC CHAIRMAN: They come together because they're people that really believe strongly in freedom and limited government and individual responsibility.

MESERVE: The majority of Republicans support the death penalty and oppose both abortion rights and stronger gun laws. But there are fractures within the Republican Party.

STEPHEN WAYNE, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY: There's been a fight for the soul of the Republican Party between the Christian Coalition, who are active in the primaries, and the moderate Republicans who feel increasingly disenfranchised by the representation they have in Washington. Bush was viewed as the consolidation candidate.

MESERVE: Bush played heavily to conservatives during the primaries, but he is giving high priority to the issue most likely to bring the party together.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, DECEMBER 1, 1999)

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: For me, tax cutting is not some abstract cause. I have a plan but I also have a record.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GARIN: Taxes is a red-meat issue for Republicans. And they're going to -- and the core of the party is going to love that George W. Bush wants to slash federal taxes.

MESERVE: Bush has, however, been reaching beyond the boundaries that usually define his party.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: I like to be seen in neighborhoods sometimes where Republicans aren't seen. I like to fight that stereotype that somehow we don't have the "corazon" necessary to hear the voices of people from all political parties.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MESERVE: He has made a point of talking to minorities. And with his compassionate conservatism, he has been making a bid for moderates, especially women whose votes are so crucial in this election. The thirst for victory may be enough to keep conservatives from becoming alienated, but it may not.

JAMES THURBER, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: They may not vote, and that could be a critical problem in some states.

MESERVE: In the view of some analysts, Bush is trying to do more than change the image of his party. He is trying to reposition it by reclaiming the center and redefining who is a Republican.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MESERVE: But there is a countervailing force and that is those conservatives. They still are incredibly powerful though their voices will be muted here at this convention.

Back to the booth.

WOODRUFF: And, Jeanne, perhaps the contradiction or the irony in all of that is that there is a "New York Times" poll this morning of the delegates comparing their views to the Republican Party as a whole.

And as conservative as the party is, Jeff, these delegates are far more conservative. I noticed in one question, should government do more to solve the nation's problems? GOP voters overall, 21 percent, said yes. Only 4 percent of these delegates said yes.

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SENIOR ANALYST: I think this is a mirror image of the Democratic situation. The rank and file of the party is more ideological than the voters at large and the delegates are more ideological than the rank and file. That's what brings them into the process. The interesting thing also I think is that one of the questions we don't yet know is whether or not this change in the tone of the Republican Party is that or whether it is like what Margaret Thatcher did in England with the Conservative Party and, to some extent, what Bill Clinton did with the Democrats, was to really change their argument -- or what Tony Blair did with the Labour Party.

One of the questions is, has George Bush convinced the party that compassionate conservatism as a policy rather than a slogan is real? If only 4 percent of these delegates think that, what they're really saying is, Governor Bush, go ahead and say what you need to say. We want you to win and we will accept this different rhetoric because we think you're one of us at heart. And if you can reach the middle, that's so much the better. But whatever you do, win. Whether the Republican Party...

WOODRUFF: And we will be quiet in the meantime.

GREENFIELD: Yes, in the sense that Goldwater and Reagan changed the Republican Party at its root, I don't think you can say that about Governor Bush yet.

BERNARD SHAW, CNN ANCHOR: It all starts happening in about six minutes. When we come back, a look at both the morning and the evening sessions at this 37th annual -- not annual but quadrennial Republican convention. Back in a moment.

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