Partisan Parley In The Peach State?: Religious Right 'Renewal' Event In Georgia Seems Aimed At Senate Run-off

Here they go again.

It seems that Religious Right activists are up to their usual dubious tactics — this time recruiting Georgia churches to try to secure a victory for U.S. Senate Republican incumbent Saxby Chambliss in his Dec. 2 run-off.

After the Nov. 4 election, neither Chambliss nor Democrat Jim Martin received the 50-percent-plus-one-vote needed to win. If Martin ousts Chambliss next week, that means 59 Democrats will hold seats in the Senate. And depending on the results in the Minnesota Senate recount, that could lead to 60 Democrats holding seats — the number needed for a filibuster-proof majority.

With so much at stake, it's not surprising that Religious Right honchos are pushing the Georgia Renewal Project's "Pastors' Policy Briefing Luncheon" tomorrow afternoon at the Renaissance Waverly Hotel in Atlanta — exactly one week before the run-off election. (Beverly LaHaye of Concerned Women for America sent an announcement to her email list.)

The event tomorrow is headlined "Rediscovering God in America," and there is no mention that Chambliss will be in attendance, but it certainly seems likely. Back in January, Religious Right powerhouses organized similar events masked as "pastors' policy briefings" for evangelical clergy in order to promote Mike Huckabee's candidacy for presidency.

These "briefings," just like the one planned for tomorrow, were put on by shadowy state-based groups using names including the words "renewal" and "restoration," and brought together conservative Protestant pastors for closed-door meetings.

Those organizing the gatherings claim they were there to discuss "social issues," but surprise, Huckabee spoke at the events. His appearances were always under the radar, and no other candidate in the Republican primary was in attendance, leading political observers to conclude that these "briefings" really had a partisan purpose.

Events were held in Iowa, South Carolina and Florida. In Florida, the American Family Association, the Florida Family Policy Council (a James Dobson affiliate), Tim and Bev LaHaye and other Religious Right powerbrokers organized one of these briefings for evangelical clergy, also called "Rediscovering God in America."

According to a report by the Dallas Morning News, the Florida event was shrouded in secrecy and only Huckabee spoke. Huckabee said he was not there as a presidential candidate yet delivered a sermon that had broad political implications. He called for a constitutional amendment banning abortion and demanded that those in attendance become active in politics.

Tomorrow's event has a lot of the same trappings. Special guests include Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue and "historian" David Barton from Wallbuilders, a Religious Right organization pushing a right-wing Christian version of American history.

Also listed as guest speakers are Bob McEwen, a former "pro-family" Ohio congressman who helped host a Huckabee fundraiser last November and spoke at the South Carolina "pastor policy briefing" in January, as well as Mat Staver, head of the Falwell-affiliated Religious Right group Liberty Counsel (who was also in attendance at the South Carolina briefing).

LaHaye's announcement of the Atlanta function, which went out as part of Concerned Women's electronic newsletter, says other guest speakers will be in attendance who are not mentioned on the program.

If this "briefing" really is just to "encourage pastors and their congregations to take a stand for morality in their daily lives," — as the announcement claims -- it seems rather coincidental that it comes one week before the run-off, with the same key players that put on Huckabee's "renewal" projects.

Though suspicious, it's not surprising — just another underhanded attempt by the Religious Right to skirt federal tax law, which bars churches and other tax-exempt groups from making candidate endorsements.

If Chambliss does make an appearance, we'll be interested to see if Martin is there, too.