Evangelicals: The New Swing Voters?

It's a new kind of political holy war - for the hearts and minds of the roughly 50 million evangelical Christians in this country.

CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric asked evangelical Christian writer and activist Jim Wallis: "Do you believe that evangelical Christians are still the domain of the GOP?"

"No, I think things are changing dramatically. They are up for grabs," he said. "Their votes are in play."

Evangelicals became a potent political force during the Reagan revolution, when Reagan said to a group: "I want you to know that I endorse you."

Politics became the perfect bully pulpit for their conservative viewpoints, emphasizing two issues above all: opposition to gay rights and abortion rights.

For more than two decades, their support at the polls has been critical to Republican victories. But that may be changing, and many younger evangelicals are behind it.

"A whole generation says no. There are more than two moral value issues," Wallis said.

"There's Darfur. There's global poverty. There's climate change. There's human trafficking."

And in that new agenda, the old issues aren't as prominent.

A new CBS News poll out tonight shows that abortion and gay rights aren't even among the top four priorities evangelicals want presidential candidates to discuss.

In fact, health care and Iraq dominate, which creates a chasm between progressive evangelicals like Jim Wallis, and more traditional leaders like Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention.

"Why were the followers of the prince of peace, the easiest ones to convince to go to war in Iraq?" Wallis said.

"I believe that when people are at war with you, it's best to be at war with them," Land said.

Land also thinks the two issues that united evangelicals shouldn't divide them now.

"The protection of the sanctity of human life from conception to natural death and everywhere in between," he said, is one. "Secondly, protection of traditional marriage."

But the CBS News poll shows that poverty trumps abortion as an issue evangelicals care about.

Check out the results of the CBS News poll.
Read more about the Values Voter Summit.
In fact, Jim Wallis believes the term "pro-life" should be redefined.

"...if I want the support of the religious right, I had better stay unborn as long as possible because once I am born, I am off the radar screen. No health care. No childcare. No nothing," Wallis said.

Different priorities may mean a new acceptance of a new kind of GOP candidate.

Current Republican frontrunner Rudy Giuliani-who would be the first Republican nominee in three decades to support abortion rights-is almost tied for first among white evangelical voters.

If Giuliani succeeds, Land says the party might be over - and a third candidate, a real social conservative, could emerge.

"It'd be like asking an abolitionist to vote for a pro-slavery candidate, you just can't do it," Land said.

Support for abortion rights isn't this year's only GOP heresy. Candidates like Giuliani, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Fred Thompson have trouble even talking about their faith - and their church attendance.

"I don't attend regularly," Thompson said.

"The most important thing is that I am a Christian and I don't have anything else to say about the issue," McCain said.

"I am not running for religious office," Giuliani said.

Meanwhile, social conservatives may not attend this election if their enthusiasm for the candidates doesn't improve. Forty percent of them say they are less excited about going to the polls this time.

Once a Republican mainstay, "values voters" could become the new swing voters - and at this point, it's anyone's guess who will convert them.

"God is not a Republican or Democrat and people of faith should not be in any party's political pocket," Wallis said.