Battling It Out in the States

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For three decades the Christian conservative movement has seen its work at the local level as its greatest strength. Wedge issues such as abortion and gay rights animate political conflict at the state and local level more powerfully than they do at the federal level, in part because such issues also resonate locally because it is easier to mobilize militant activism on issues that are closer to home than on more abstract and remote federal policies. Also, the pockets of strength of the Christian Right tend to be regional and local. Further, issues are increasingly resolved state by state in the ongoing devolution of federal policy to the states-the result of the "Reagan revolution" and Republican appointments to the Supreme Court. This local focus has played out over many years as the movement has recruited members, built institutions, and gained political experience.31 In one notable local victory in the 2000 elections, judge Roy Moore, best known for hand carving a wood plaque of the Ten Commandments and defiantly hanging it in his Etowah County, Alabama courtroom, was elected Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court.32

Even as a divisive, "culture war" political style characterizes much of the Christian Right's local-level organizing, one important feature of the maturation of the Christian Right is the effort to put a friendlier face on some of the most retrograde of conservative positions on such matters as race, gender, the environment, and the condition of the poor. The movement has shifted in order to counter the image of conservatives as lacking moral credibility, common decency and common sense on a range of issues. George W. Bush's presidential campaign grouped these issues under the rubric of "compassionate conservatism" and, during the campaign, heavily promoted the message of moderation implied by that title. In addition to abortion, four other issues have been fundamental for the Christian Right at the state level in the past several years. In each case, the Christian Right has moderated its rhetoric and adopted a friendlier face in promoting its agenda.

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