Evangelical leaders leaning towards Fred

What do you know. I guess he’s Christian enough after all.

The success of the effort is by no means ensured; in March, Focus on the Family’s James Dobson told U.S. News that he doubted Thompson was really a Christian. But Dobson and Thompson have since talked, with Dobson rumored to be reassessing Thompson. And prominent social conservative Paul Weyrich, who met recently with Thompson and evangelical activists, said the former senator “was in agreement with us on almost everything.”

For Thompson, the timing couldn’t be better. McCain’s campaign is reeling from staff departures and cutbacks, and Giuliani faces fierce opposition from Christian right leaders. So Thompson’s team is betting that the GOP primaries will turn into what one adviser calls a “Thompson-Romney duel,” since Romney is the one top-tier Republican lobbying hard for evangelical support. “If he gets strong support from evangelicals, Thompson could reshape the race,” says the Pew Forum for Religion and Public Life’s John Green…

Thompson still faces stumbling blocks among rank-and-file evangelicals, including his own reputation as an infrequent churchgoer. But “Thompson’s very good on the defense of normal marriage and free expression of religion,” says one time presidential candidate Gary Bauer. “Frankly, he might have an easier time…if he’s not easily labeled as ‘religious right.'”…

Last week, the Los Angeles Times alleged that Thompson had even lobbied for an abortion-rights group. But Thompson’s Christian outreach team quickly E-mailed a detailed denial to conservative leaders. Within hours, evangelical activists were chatting with reporters, quoting straight from Thompson’s talking points. The story’s damage wasn’t undone, exactly. But the response may have been a signal that evangelicals are ready to join the Thompson team.

I doubt whether a Thompson-Romney duel will be much of a duel. I mentioned Mitt to a born-again Christian friend not long ago as someone possibly worth supporting and she sniffed that he belonged to a “cult.” Not all Christians agree, of course, but given a choice between two candidates with similar takes on most issues it’s natural that they’ll lean towards the guy who “looks” most like them. On the other hand, Fred’s already copped to having chased (and been chased by) plenty of skirts in his bachelor days. How many’s going to be too many for Dobson and company? I’m sure Mitt’s oppo researchers are busy working to find out.

The media’s already busy sifting through his Senate papers, although, per Patterico, it looks the cast of characters in the next LA Times hit piece overlaps somewhat with the cast from the last one, which won’t help their credibility any.

Here’s Mitt’s new ad, by the way. Replace the voiceover and the shot of him at the very end with a couple walking hand in hand and it could be a spot for an erectile dysfunction pill. Exit question: Given the media’s sudden, not at all partisan interest in candidates and their history with lobbyists, how much traction do you suppose this article‘s going to get?