MINNEAPOLIS-An early hint of the Christian Right's resurgence in electoral politics came in the Minnesota spring caucuses. At the same time, the mainstream media's inability to understand the Christian Right became obvious.
Much to most observers' surprise, the Christian Right galvanized around a former state legislator, Allen Quist, who captured the party endorsement over the sitting Republican governor, Arne Carlson. Quist ignited the social conservatives, many of whom had never attended party caucuses before, with his vocal backing of school prayer and "traditional family" values and his adamant opposition to abortion.
Quist forged an alliance between his social conservative faithful-dubbed the Quistinistas-and the most conservative economic interests within the state, reminiscent of that put together by Ronald Reagan in 1980. He promised to cut $1 billion from the state budget by curtailing education and welfare programs, alienating some of the secular forces in the party.
Quist's religious beliefs became a major issue in the campaign and a focal point of news coverage. In an interview with The Twin Cities Reader, he stated that men have a "genetic predisposition" to head the family, making him a target of derision by the mainstream press and an object of veneration by his followers, who saw the press treatment as nothing less than persecution.
The cultural divide between the mainstream press and those who feel a lack of influence became obvious in this campaign. Any questioning on political grounds of the standard-bearer was interpreted as an attack on the followers-and often, in fact, it was.
Many Quist supporters were political neophytes involved out of their sense of alienation from political and bureaucratic institutions. Even wealthy and influential voters responded to the "outsiders" appeal of Quist and other Christian Right emissaries.
The nominee of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, John Marty, is likewise well-known for his faith influencing his political perspective. His personal piety draws Marty, the son of Christian Century senior editor Martin Marty, into progressive solutions of the same problems cited by Quist.
Both Marty and Quist are pious and uncompromising politicians. The Minneapolis Star andTribune argues that this has contributed to their popularity. The newspaper says the "politics of conviction" is popular because it emphasizes morality and spiritual depth at a time when people identify these as values lacking in most officials.
Both Quist and Marty are also noted for personal integrity, though Marty is identified with campaign reform and refusing campaign contributions of more than $100 and Quist with his plans to bring "responsibility" to welfare and abortion topics. While Marty talks of the biblical notion of "justice," Quist emphasizes ôrighteousness."
Even though Quist lost the Independent Republican primary against Carlson, his candidacy altered the political landscape. With the Republican Party apparatus firmly in the hands of social conservatives, the Quistinistas' influence will be felt for some time to come.