While the Christian Coalition's annual Road to Victory conference and strategy briefing is a political event, this year's meeting reached a new peak. A parade of Republican presidential hopefuls appeared on the roster, including: Sen. Bob Dole, Sen. Phil Gramm, Sen. Richard Lugar, Pat Buchanan, Lamar Alexander, Alan Keyes, Rep. Newt Gingrich, and Bill Bennett. Gov. Pete Wilson of California sent regrets. Sen. Arlen Specter wasn't invited.
Christian Coalition members attended from every state in the nation. With 4,260 present, attendance topped last year's conference by 900, giving fire marshals the jitters. In addition, the press corps provided another 200 attendees. (Back in 1990, The Freedom Writer was about the only press covering the Christian Coalition Road to Victory conference.)
Joel Vaughan, associate field director, told The Freedom Writer that the annual conference "is a great motivator for Christian Coalition members to start chapters."
Christian Coalition executive director Ralph Reed set the tone for the conference. Still trying to defend the group against charges of anti-Semitism, Reed said, "We are the best friend the Jews or the State of Israel ever had." In an effort to bolster Reed's statement, the conference featured the usual lineup of Jewish speakers.
However, Road to Victory was really about presidential politics. "The question is not who will we endorse," Reed said, "the question is who will endorse our agenda." To appear non-partisan, Reed added, to thunderous applause, "We do not bear the name of Ronald Reagan, or Bob Dole, or Newt Gingrich; we bear the Name that is above every name; we bear the Name of Him to whom every knee shall bow!"
Though "non-partisan," Reed and a host of other speakers (about 146 speakers addressed the conference at various sessions and workshops) attacked President Clinton, both personally and politically. Reed said Clinton's use of the "bully pulpit" to promote family values really came from the "pulpit of bull." As the crowd cheered him on, Reed criticized Hillary Rodham Clinton's trip to the UN's World Conference on Women in Beijing, China. Reed failed to mention the courageous stance the First Lady took when she castigated the Chinese government for its human rights violations.
Pat Robertson reminded the audience that many of the goals he set in 1990 have been met ahead of schedule. One of the goals was to "be a deciding voice in at least one of the two major political parties" by 1994. According to Campaign & Elections magazine, Robertson said, the Christian Coalition is now "dominant" in the Republican Party in 18 states, and "substantial" in 13 states. Alluding to his apocalyptical views, Robertson plugged his forthcoming book, a novel called The End of the Age.
Of the Republican presidential front- runners, Sen. Bob Dole received a generally warm reception; Sen. Phil Gramm's welcome was enthusiastic; Pat Buchanan, the obvious favorite, was received with wild enthusiasm. Buchanan, the conservative talk-show host, delivered the keynote speech at Saturday night's closing gala banquet. While they sat at rapt attention, his final words stirred the audience.
"For the time is not far distant," Buchanan declared, "when we are all going to have to gird ourselves and take that long march up to Armageddon to do battle for the Lord. God bless you all, and God bless America."