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Voter guides called partisan

Critics attack use of conservative catch-phrases

WASHINGTON -- The Christian Coalition is distributing 30 million voter guides that use conservative catch-phrases such as "unrestricted abortion on demand" and "affirmative action programs that provide preferential treatment" in detailing the positions of the two presidential candidates.

The guides will be distributed nationally starting today, handed out in churches, at shopping malls, and at other public locations. The coalition has been producing the guides since 1992.

Roberta Combs, coalition president, said the guides were an attempt to educate voters. "I don't think the wording is loaded at all," Combs said.

The description of the guides as nonpartisan was questioned by some political analysts and coalition critics.

"These guides are clearly partisan, almost always supporting the Republican campaign," said Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. "They make the Republican look like a candidate for sainthood and the Democratic candidates look like they belong in the house of horrors wax museum."

President Bush's campaign answered a questionnaire for the guides, while Democrat John Kerry's campaign did not.

"The Christian Coalition can do the bidding of the Bush campaign under any guise that they want, but we're still not going to answer their questionnaire," said Kerry adviser Michael Meehan.

The coalition vigorously defends its nonpartisan status, important to its ability to retain its federal tax exemption. The group and the Internal Revenue Service have sparred for years over whether the coalition's activities are too political for a tax-exempt group.

The guides reach an important portion of the electorate. About 25 percent of voters are white evangelicals, polling suggests, and almost four in 10 Republicans describe themselves as evangelicals.

Combs said the coalition sends questionnaires to candidates. If there is no response, the coalition fills in positions according to how a candidate has voted or taken an official stand on an issue. "No response" is entered when there is no such record.

The guides will be sent to state chairs of the coalition to distribute to about 80,000 churches around the country. The coalition is also providing the document on its website and encouraging members to print their own versions and distribute them. The guides cover 200 federal races, including Senate and House contests, and are customized for each state and each congressional district.

The guides provide positions on such issues as "unrestricted abortion on demand," "adoption of children by homosexuals," "permanent elimination of the death tax," "federal firearms registration and licensing of gun owners," "affirmative action programs that provide preferential treatment," "allowing younger workers to invest a portion of their Social Security tax in a private account," and several other tax proposals.

Framing the questions with wording often used by conservative politicians puts many candidates in an awkward position to answer "yes" or "no," said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, a specialist in political communication and director of the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg Public Policy Center.

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