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Who Focused On Religion? Craswell Says The Media, Not Her, Was Preoccupied With Her Religious Beliefs

Republican Ellen Craswell, one of the nicest and most sincere candidates on the ballot, reacted with surprising bitterness following her loss to Democrat Gary Locke in the governor’s race.

The candidate of Christian conservatives criticized the media for dwelling on her religious faith - which she repeatedly described throughout the campaign as the most important thing in her life - and uncharacteristically canceled a news conference scheduled for Wednesday to discuss the election. Instead, she went on vacation.

“Certainly I felt (religion) was overplayed by the press,” she said Tuesday night. “That’s their business, but I’m surprised that so many of them seemed preoccupied with it. It’s harder to get your issues out that way.”

It seemed an odd response, considering that she frequently referred to her faith without being prompted.

Craswell, who became a born-again Christian 16 years ago, had promised to restore moral values to the state’s culture and, when asked her position on crime, often said that the criminal code is based on the biblical standards of “don’t lie, don’t cheat, don’t steal, don’t kill.”

She promised major tax cuts and a massive effort to cut the size and scope of government, but even those pledges were rooted in her faith.

“My goal is to assess issues by constitutional and biblical standards and to progress accordingly,” she wrote in a summary of her views.

Craswell had begun complaining about media coverage of her message in the waning weeks of the campaign.

She told an Associated Press reporter two weeks ago that she never considered her religion to be a major issue in terms of how she would govern, but she wanted to be open about her faith so voters would understand what guides her principles.

“I felt that if I tried to downplay my faith or hide it, that would be used against me in all kinds of ways, and it would come out in all kinds of ways through my opponents,” she said at the time.

Craswell thought her openness would put the issue to rest.

It didn’t.

In exit polling of nearly 1,800 voters done for The Associated Press and the networks, 53 percent of the poll participants said they believed Craswell was too extreme.

Just 15 percent of voters said they were members of the Religious Right, and they favored Craswell. The other 85 percent who said they don’t belong to that segment of the voting population went for Locke.

Certainly, other factors besides her religion contributed to her loss.

She frequently stumbled during debates. She never explained how she would pay for a 30 percent tax cut over four years. And she sometimes demonstrated ignorance of issues.

Dave Welch, executive director of the Christian Coalition of Washington, said the media and the Democratic Party’s “tendency to demonize people of the religious conservative viewpoint” were partially to blame.

“But ultimately, it’s the responsibility of the candidate to effectively communicate their message to the public,” Welch said Wednesday.

“One of the things we try to do in our training of religious conservative activists is how to effectively articulate a faith-based message to a secular audience in a way that is clear and non-threatening.”

Plenty of voters apparently found her message threatening, but Welch still saw a silver lining.

“Somebody who is as open, forthright and upfront and honest about everything she believes as Ellen is not going to change her message for political purposes. That’s something to be commended,” he said. “If it took changing the message to win the election, they would rather lose.”

There was another added benefit: Craswell was backed by a grass-roots network boasting 20,000 volunteers, an army that could prove useful in future campaigns.

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