The idea for the conferences is modeled after the “Pastors and Pews” confabs organized by California Evangelical political operative David Lane, the Christian Right mastermind behind “The Response,” Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s 2011 prayer rally. Lane, who orchestrated last week’s event in Iowa, has been hooking Republican leaders up with conservative Evangelical pastors since 2005, with the goal of igniting a “spiritual revival in America,” and getting more of the 65 to 80 million born-again Christians in the U.S. to vote for conservatives. “We’re mobilizing this constituency,” Lane told Daily Intelligencer Friday, adding that he believes only half of Evangelicals in the country are registered to vote. “If we could get just 3 percent more of these Christians to vote, we could change elections.”

Republicans see opportunity.

Maybe they are feeling desperate — or maybe they are feeling hopeful. But last weekend, the GOP — which has been grappling with its reputation as a party of and for white people — did something historic at an Evangelical confab in Iowa: They made an organized play for a chunk of the black Christian vote, and brought in black church leaders to help them do it.

Since the days when the moon had no footprints on it, the black vote has gone so overwhelmingly for Democrats that the GOP has never invested much effort in trying to carve it up. Never mind that 61 percent of blacks self-identify as “born-again” — the highest of any racial group by far — and that those voters tend to agree with their white evangelical counterparts on social issues like abortion and same-sex marriage. And polls show that while religious white Americans are more than twice as likely to identify as Republicans, black Americans are strongly inclined to vote Democrat, regardless of their religious affiliation. In spite of these striking stats, however, GOP leaders admit that black religious leaders have been largely absent from the party’s strategy process.

But in Iowa last Friday, minority church leaders finally got a seat at the table, when a group of about twenty black and Hispanic pastors joined 400 Iowa evangelicals in Des Moines for a two-day Christian Right confab. The pastors heard speeches from Senate Tea Party darlings Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), and sat down with Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus to discuss how the GOP could better establish relationships with churchgoers in black and Hispanic communities.

Republican strategists said that Friday’s meeting was the first time in recent memory that the Party has made a concerted effort to include black and Hispanic church leaders in developing the GOP’s minority outreach strategy…

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