Washington, D.C. — As is his job as the GOP’s vice-presidential nominee, Paul Ryan dutifully came to the Values Voter Summit this morning, making the case that his boss was the best person to carry the Republican cause forward in the fall.
But the congressman from Wisconsin was also here, it seems, to rally cultural conservatives and to help ensure that they stay energized enough to vote come November.
It wasn’t his line about how Romney is “an honest man with a charitable heart; a doer and a promise keeper,” nor his criticism of the president’s economic polices, that got the biggest standing applause.
For while he said that “in this election, values voters are also economic voters,” and tried to connect the economy under the president to social issues, Ryan was much more in his element toward the end of his speech, when he addressed worries about the HHS mandate and its impact on religious non-profits, especially those run by or associated with the Catholic Church.
“You would be hard pressed to find another group in America that does more to serve the health of women and their babies,” Ryan, who is Catholic, said.
But he claimed that the mandate is “not a threat and insult to one religious group; it is a threat and insult to every religious group.” It’s a standard line from the Romney campaign, but meant something different here.
It was at this point that the the traditional-looking crowd of suits and skirts stood up, applauding in the dim, full room. It was also what one Roman Catholic activist (whose group is one of the more outspoken), Richard Lyon, told me was the best part of the stump.
It felt the least purely political to him, he said. Catholics make up perhaps the biggest single denomination represented among the speakers. And while Lyon didn’t wanted to be quoted verbatim, he was OK with me summarizing how he felt: more at common cause with Protestant evangelicals than he had felt before— even more than on the abortion issue.
Tony Perkins, the sometimes-controversial president of the Family Research Council, which is sponsoring the gathering, was on message when I talked to him afterward.
“I think excitement is building for Romney,” he insisted to another reporter.
But while Perkins hesitated to say that having Ryan instead of Romney speak was a better fit for the kinds of conservatives here (the religiously motivated ones), he did say that Ryan “connected” well with his audience due to their shared sense of what’s important.
Events like this help religious conservatives “put their thumbprint on the national discussion,” he said. And it’ll matter more in 2016, he said. For up-and-coming Republicans like Ryan and Ky. Sen. Rand Paul, who spoke first this morning, “the life issue isn’t even an option.”