All Photographs by Scot Facer Proctor, Copyright 2007 Scot Facer Proctor. 
All Rights Reserved.

All political eyes were on the Family Research Council’s Washington Briefing this past weekend as the 9 Republican candidates for President came to give speeches and woo the 2500 value voters who attended. The Democratic presidential candidates were also invited, but declined to attend.

For the candidates, this was a significant audience to win, the largest core of the Republican party, many who confess that they have not yet found their man in this race. For the values voters, the most central issues are supporting the traditional definition of marriage and recognition of the dignity and importance of life at every stage, including the unborn. For them, these are deal breakers, the top of their priority list in evaluating any presidential contender.

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Because leaders of the social conservatives, many who are evangelical Christians, have been slow to commit themselves to any candidate, it was significant that Mitt Romney won the straw poll held at the briefing, edging voter value favorite Mike Huckabee by a close thirty votes.

There were 5,776 votes cast, but only 2,500 people at the summit because Family Research Council Action allowed online voting as well. Although some have complained that the results do not accurately reflect the feelings of the most committed social conservative activists because Romney campaigners urged their fellow supporters to vote in the poll online, those behind the straw poll said that they did not see any late rush of registrations that would have signified that supporters had stuffed the ballot box.

What surprised many observers was Fred Thompson’s poor showing in the poll, coming in fourth place with less than 10% of the vote. For several months now, he has been touted as the value voter’s dream candidate, but many said his speech at the event was sleepy and uninspiring.

The voting in order was Mitt Romney at 27.62%, Mike Huckabee at 27.15%, Ron Paul at 14.98%, Fred Thompson at 9.77%, undecided at 5.70%, Sam Brownback at 5.14% and everyone else at less than 3%. Rudy Guiliani, who is pro-choice, came in at 1.85%.

James Dobson and Richard Land, prominent leaders of the values voters, have said that under no circumstances will they support Rudy Guiliani because they see his candidacy as not only undermining the pro-life plank in the Republican platform, but also as a devastating blow to the pro-life progress that the family movement has made.

This may be a bigger problem for Guiliani than he realizes. The Weekly Standard notes, “Were a few million to bolt in 2008, either by voting for a right-to-life candidate or not voting for any presidential candidate, Guiliani probably could not win the general election. A recent Rasmussen poll echoes this point. It found that 27 percent of Republicans would vote for a third party candidate backed by social conservative leaders if Guiliani is the Republican nominee.”

Guiliani told the social conservatives at the conference this weekend that they had nothing to fear from him, but they didn’t appear to be swayed.

Instead, as Evangelicals for Mitt founder David French noted, the ice is slowly breaking among evangelicals who have resisted supporting Mitt because of his religion. He said that the LDS Church is outside the evangelical’s world experience, and as they become more familiar with it, they become less wary.

Romney has had significant help in breaking that ice from several key endorsements. He got a boost over the weekend when Dr. John Willke, one of the founders of the modern-day pro-life movement and former president of National Right to Life, gave him his endorsement. He joins National Right to Life legal counsel James Bopp Jr. in supporting the Romney campaign.

Waiting to greet Romney at the Washington Briefing was Rev. Lou Sheldon, founder of the Traditional Values Coalition, who has become an active supporter.

Still the Boston Globe reported Sunday, Oct. 21, “For Mitt Romney, religion is a potential third rail. For the rest of the pack, it’s a stairway to political heaven. Romney’s Mormon faith is endlessly analyzed as a political obstacle. Yet, John McCain’s campaign can’t wait to email a recent Christian Science Monitor article that rhapsodizes over the Arizona senator’s “deep faith in God.”

“The former governor of Arkansas gets a cutesy Newsweek headline ? “The Gospel According to Mike Huckabee ” ? and no tough questions about how his other career as an ordained Baptist minister might affect his thinking in the Oval Office.

“Meanwhile, Romney’s flattering Newsweek cover shot is undercut by a politically charged headline: “A Mormon’s Journey.” The report begins with the candidate awkwardly dodging questions about his religion. It also points out that only 45 percent of registered Iowa Republicans say America “is ready for a Mormon president.”

With all these cross-currents, Romney’s speech at the Washington Briefing mattered more than most, and the crowd seemed to agree that it was a slam-dunk. As Erick Erickson of Redstate wrote, “Mitt comes in to a grand anthem. The room goes nuts – a bigger reception than any of the other candidates. He begins pitch perfect.”

That beginning was a clip from a Romney ad showing his lively, rollicking family, with wife Ann, saying, “Mitt says his greatest success is being able to say I’ve been a good father and a good husband. Sometimes I’d be home with those five boys and it was rough. He’d come and remind me that what I was doing was much more important than he was doing. Mitt says there’s no work more important than what goes on within the four walls of the American home, and that’s the way it was in our home.”

Then Mitt says this is what moves him:

My driving motivation is to have our kids and my grandkids grow up in an America that’s as safe and prosperous, as strong as anything we’ve ever known in this great country, and to achieve that, it’s not just what happens in the White House that matters, it’s also what happens in your house that matters. America’s future will be determined not just by heads of state but by heads of households.

Still, he said, “there’s a great deal that our nation can do to assists and validate parents and their vital role.”

He said that most of society’s problems come from the breakdown of the family and “a society is wealthier, healthier and stronger when it has strong families.”

“Ann and I are going to use the bully pulpit to teach America’s children that before they have babies, they should get married. It really is time to make out-of-wedlock birth out of fashion again.”

These lines brought hearty applause from the audience, but even more impressive to most of them was how specific he began to be about policies he would implement:

I’ll realign government incentives to encourage marriage, not to penalize it.

Regarding welfare:

It’s time that we made fathers responsible for their child’s health and care whether or not they marry the mother.

The tax penalty that we attach to married couples is simply offensive. The words “I do” in marriage shouldn’t result in the government saying, you don’t when it comes to the economic security of your family.

I will reinstate the family impact statement. [This was an executive order instituted by Ronald Reagan and then revoked by President Bill Clinton that required every new law to be analyzed by whether it would strengthen or erode the family.]

I’ll initiate an audit of all current policies and programs which negatively impact families, and I’ll look to support the rights of parents ? the rights of parent who aren’t always consulted about decisions affecting their children.

I’ll champion a federal marriage amendment to protect marriage.

I will be a pro-life president.

I’ll appoint and fight for justices who follow the law and the constitution, who understand judicial restraint and who won’t legislate from the bench.

I’ll oppose taxpayer funding of abortion. I’ll oppose partial-birth abortion. I’ll oppose abortion in military clinics. I’ll oppose funding abortion in international aid programs, and I’ll work to ban embryonic cloning. I’ll work to increase adoptions by making the adoption tax credit permanent. And also I’ll raise awareness about embryonic adoption or snowflake babies.

I’m going to fight the modern plague, Internet pornography, especially as it effects our youth. You may recall that following the Columbine shooting, Peggy Noonan said that our children are swimming in an ocean of filth. She called it: pornography, perversion, violence, sex. It’s time we clean up the water that our kids are swimming in.

If I’m president, I’ll work to make sure that every computer sold into the home has an easy to engage pornography filter so that parents can protect their children from unwanted filth into their home. And about those predators who use the Internet to lure in children? In my book, it will be one strike and you’re ours. And for me that means long prison sentences, and if you ever get out, it’s an ankle bracelet for the rest of your life.

I’ll also work for better schools and better education for our children. I want school choice. Look, every child should have an equal opportunity to have a good education.

I want to make sure that the attorney general defends the free exercise of religion in this country. The effort to establish an anti-religion in America ? the anti-religion of secularism ? has got to come to an end. We’re a nation under God and we do place our trust in him.”

Christian Broadcasting Network’s David Brody said, “We will look back on this week, if Mitt Romney goes on and wins the nomination and if you see other evangelical leaders in the future, come November, December, or even into January, start to endorse Mitt Romney, you’ll look back to this week as a very key week for the Romney campaign.”

For values voters, who feel nervous about a possible Guiliani vs. Hilary race next year, it was also a key meeting as they continue to feel their way toward supporting a candidate they believe won’t let them down. Although they listened to nine Republican candidates this weekend, the verdict is still out.

Mitt Romney won the straw vote at the meeting, which was held in conjunction with the Washington Briefing (which included both votes cast at the meeting and online). In the victory he edged out Mike Huckabee.

There were 5,776 votes cast but only 2,500 people at the summit. The discrepancy comes from Internet votes. Anyone who was a member of Family Research Council Action, which only requires a minimum donation of $1, was allowed to vote. Some had fretted that candidates’ supporters might try to stuff the ballot by registering with Family Research Council and voting, but a spokeswoman for the group said they had not noticed any kind of rush of late registrations.

I just got my hands on an advance press release from the Romney camp that will be hitting the Value Voters in the morning (and political reporters’ inboxes any time now): Jack Willke, longtime pro-life activist and one of the founders of the National Right to Life Committee, has endorsed Mitt Romney.

Also notable about Willke? He’s former a Brownback supporter.

In a Willke statement provided to me by the Romney campaign, Willke says, “Unlike other candidates who only speak to the importance of confronting the major social issues of the day, Governor Romney has a record of action in defending life. Every decision he made as Governor was on the side of life. I know he will be the strong pro-life President we need in the White House.” Dr. Willke added, “Governor Romney is the only candidate who can lead our pro-life and pro-family conservative movement to victory in 2008.”