GOP hopes Palin will draw evangelical voters

Undaunted by questions about Sarah Palin's political resume and family, evangelical Christians at the Republican National Convention are cheering the choice of the Alaskan governor for vice president, saying she will energize social conservatives critical to the party's success in November.

“I've seen a resurgence of enthusiasm from our evangelical base in the party,” said Minnesota GOP Chairman Ron Carey.

Sen. John McCain's selection of Palin as his running mate reassures evangelicals who have long worried that he doesn't share their passion on social issues.

In Palin, conservatives get a staunch abortion opponent.

McCain has qualified his opposition, making exceptions for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest.

The McCain campaign says contributions surged after Palin was named.

Roughly $10 million of the $47 million the campaign raised in August came in after McCain announced her as his running mate on Friday, said Tom Steward, regional communications director for McCain.

He said the committee could not determine how much of the money was coming from evangelicals.

When word spread two weeks ago that McCain was considering a running mate who supported abortion rights – independent Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut or former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge – evangelicals swiftly denounced the idea.

Now they're rallying around Palin.

At a news conference at the convention, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a Baptist preacher and the first choice of Carey and many other evangelicals for president, said “I'm thrilled. … I don't think we lose with a pro-life candidate. We lose when we don't have one.”

Palin was baptized as a teenager at the Assembly of God in Wasilla, Alaska, where she and her family were active.

She now sometimes worships at the Juneau Christian Center, which is also part of the Pentecostal Assemblies of God.

Securing enthusiastic support from evangelicals – a key base of the GOP – is a cornerstone in McCain's blueprint for victory, said Dan Hofrenning, a St. Olaf College professor who specializes in religion and politics.

“I think she will boost turnout significantly, and that is part of the McCain calculus,” Hofrenning said.

To understand McCain's need for evangelical support, consider that in 2000 President Bush received 59 percent of the white evangelical vote in an election in which he lost the popular vote to former Vice President Al Gore, according to the Pew Research Center. In 2004, Bush got 71percent of the vote, which helped him beat Sen. John Kerry decisively.

Before Palin's selection, McCain showed about the same level of support among white evangelicals as did Bush in 2004, but they were decidedly less enthusiastic, according to a Pew poll.