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Obama gains historic win; conservatives watch & wait

WASHINGTON (BP)–Democrat Barack Obama made history Nov. 4 by becoming the first African American elected to the U.S. presidency, but the victory left many evangelical Christians and other social conservatives concerned his administration will undermine pro-life and pro-family policies.

The U.S. senator from Illinois took most of the hotly contested battleground states on the way to a convincing win over Republican John McCain. Obama led McCain by a 349-163 margin in electoral votes, with Missouri and North Carolina still too close to call at 1 p.m. (EST) Nov. 5, according to CNN. At the same time, Obama’s advantage in the popular vote was 63.2 million to 55.9 million, or 52-46 percent, with 97 percent of the precincts reporting.

Obama’s victory, combined with his party’s gains in both the Senate and House of Representatives, could result in the rollback of federal restrictions on abortion and its funding, as well as grants for destructive embryonic stem cell research. It also could produce advances for homosexual rights and “gay marriage,” social conservatives say.

Democrats had expanded their Senate caucus majority by five seats to 56-40 with four races still undecided at 1 p.m. Nov. 5, according to CNN. In the House, they had picked up at least 17 seats for a 253-172 margin at noon Nov. 5. Ten races were still undecided, CNN reported.

Southern Baptist ethics leader Richard Land applauded the meaning of Obama’s election while acknowledging his opposition to the president-elect’s policies.

“There are tens of millions of Americans who did not vote for President-elect Obama, as well as those who did, who are very, very pleased that an African American has been elected president of the United States,” said Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “The fact that this could happen in a country with as tragic a racial past as America’s says something noble and fine about the American experiment and the glorious ‘opportunity democracy’ it has spawned. After much struggle, we as a nation have chosen to live up to the promises of our founding documents: We believe ‘that all men are created equal.’

“For the millions of us who came of age during the civil rights era and were inspired by Dr. [Martin Luther] King, it is very gratifying to watch our nation elect a person of color to the highest political office in the land, even so one for whom we may not have voted because of serious policy differences,” Land told Baptist Press.

R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, described the election as “a hallmark moment in history for all Americans — not just for those who voted for Sen. Obama.”

Despite his differences with Obama’s positions, Mohler said on his weblog, “As a nation, we will never think of ourselves the same way again. Americans rich and poor, black and white, old and young, will look to an African American man and know him as president of the United States.”

In his victory speech in Chicago, Obama acknowledged the watershed moment. “If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer,” Obama said.

McCain said in his concession speech he recognized “the special significance it has for African Americans and for the special pride that must be theirs tonight.”

With a strong Democratic majority in Congress and the authority to nominate Supreme Court justices and federal judges, Obama, 47, likely will have the opportunity to solidify liberal social policies and repeal advances made by pro-life and pro-family advocates.

His public policy record in the Illinois and U.S. legislatures is marked by unrestrained support for abortion rights. He endorsed abortion reduction during the presidential campaign but promised to sign the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA) into law. FOCA would strike down all federal and state limitations on abortion, including bans on government funding.

Obama has said he believes marriage is only between a man and a woman, but he has opposed legislative efforts and citizen initiatives to protect traditional marriage.

“Now we’re going to see the real Barack Obama stand up,” Land said. “Is it the person who had the most liberal voting record in the Senate? Or is it the candidate who campaigned as a centrist and a tax-cutter? And how far to the left will he be pushed by liberals in his own party in Congress?”

Mohler wrote, “The fight for the dignity and sanctity of unborn human beings has been set back by a great loss…. The struggle to protect marriage against its destruction by redefinition is now complicated…. On issue after issue, we face a longer, harder and more protracted struggle than ever before.”

Pro-life and pro-family efforts in the states produced mixed results on election day. Pro-life advocates lost on a variety of initiatives in California, Colorado, Michigan, South Dakota and Washington, but constitutional amendments to protect marriage as the union between a man and a woman won in California, Florida and Arizona. Most significantly, California voters overturned their Supreme Court’s May ruling that legalized “gay marriage.”

Despite the loss, McCain, with running mate Sarah Palin, easily won the vote of white Americans who identified themselves as evangelical or born-again Christians. In exit polling by CNN, McCain won this group over Obama by 74-24 percent. Evangelicals constituted 26 percent of the electorate, according to CNN.

In CNN’s exit poll, McCain also led among Protestants nationwide with 54 percent, but Obama, with running mate Joe Biden, gained 54 percent of the Roman Catholic vote and 78 percent of the Jewish vote.

By race, McCain gained the white vote with 55 percent, but Obama easily won among African Americans, 95 percent; Latinos, 66 percent; and Asians, 61 percent, according to CNN’s exit polling.

By mid-day Nov. 5, it appeared unlikely the Democrats would gain a filibuster-proof majority. They need 60 seats in order to prevent such a blocking maneuver by Republicans. Democrats would need to win all four races that were too close to call to reach their goal. There are liberal and moderate GOP senators, however, who may help the Democrats overcome filibuster attempts in some cases.
Tom Strode is Baptist Press’ Washington bureau chief.