Over the weekend, James Dobson backed off his earlier assertion that he would not cast a vote for president this year if John McCain clinched the GOP nomination. Voting is a "God-given responsibility," Dobson told host Sean Hannity Sunday night on Hannity's America, and one that he plans to fulfill despite his disenchantment with all three leading candidates.
But where does that leave Dobson? Will he backpedal and now throw his support behind McCain? Not likely, at least not yet. Before signing off with Hannity, Dobson made it clear that McCain's support of the pro-life and pro-marriage planks in the Republican Party platform was not enough; he wants assurances from the Arizona senator that he will oppose embryonic stem-cell research as well. "That's a major one for me," Dobson said. "You can't really call yourself pro-life if you're going to kill those babies."
The question now is who will blink first. If McCain holds his ground-he supports federal funding for research on unused embryos from fertility clinics-he risks losing the percentage of the evangelical vote that Dobson continues to influence. With the presidency at stake, that's a risk McCain most likely won't take despite all the chatter about Dobson's waning influence among evangelicals.
Still, there is that chance that Dobson has painted himself into a corner on this one. As recently as two months ago, he adamantly stated that he would not vote for McCain. If McCain doesn't change his position on stem-cell research to Dobson's liking, that leaves Dobson with precious few choices-namely, a compromise vote for McCain, an unlikely vote for Ron Paul (assuming he gets on the ballot), or a write-in vote for his assumed candidate of choice all along, Mitt Romney.
This could prove to be a defining moment in the relationship between the GOP and a historically prominent leader of the religious right. The perception of Dobson as an important player in conservative politics just may hinge on McCain's response to what appears to be Dobson's line-in-the-sand challenge.
Marcia Ford, author of We the Purple: Faith, Politics, and the Independent Voter, maintains an independent voter blog at marciaford.blogspot.com.