This weekend, thousands of “values voters” will convene in Washington for their annual summit sponsored by the Family Research Council (motto: “Defending faith, family and freedom”). All of the conservative luminaries will be there: Michele Bachmann, Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, and maybe even Sarah Palin. (South Carolina Mark Sanford was, sadly, disinvited over the summer.) One group of voters won’t be too well represented, however. Event organizers have conveniently scheduled their big DC summit for Rosh Hashanah, meaning that most Jews will be elsewhere, celebrating their biggest holiday of the year just as Bill O’Reilly kicks off the summit’s Friday evening plenary session. Not that many Jews were likely to come anyway; the Family Research Council isn’t known for its interfaith outreach. But still, for a religious group, the scheduling seems a little insensitive. Perhaps it was intentional, you know, to keep out the mainstream media.
That seems unlikely, however, given that in past years, the FRC summit has been a hotbed of news. In 2007, it was the place to be for aspiring GOP presidential candidates. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee emerged as a major contender, tying in a straw poll at the event with the better-funded presidential contender former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. Huckabee’s overwhelming win of the on-site voting also showed early on that Romney had not captured the hearts of critical evangelical Republicans, a sign of things to come. Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback also used the event to announce that he was dropping out of the race.
The 2008 summit was less eventful as political activists focused on the elections, but it did make some headlines after reporters discovered exhibitors at the event selling racist anti-Obama junk, including “Obama Waffles,” boxes of which featured caricatures of Obama with big lips and wearing a Muslim headdress. But 2009 promises to be a big year for the conservatives, who are once again energized in opposition to the new administration and Democratic Congress. It will also be a testing ground for potential GOP contenders—people like Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and, of course, Palin if she decides to attend. (At this writing, she had been invited but not confirmed as a speaker.) They’ll get an early chance to try to woo the influential evangelical foot soldiers of the GOP. But if the candidates want to court the Jewish vote, perhaps they’ll have to do it on Christmas day.