Conservatives warn of Republican complacency ahead of U.S. election

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[September 22, 2018]  By Ginger Gibson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Conservative candidates sounded alarms to their evangelical supporters on Friday about voter complacency that could allow a Democratic takeover of Congress and an undermining of President Donald Trump's agenda.

The admonition at the annual Value Voters Summit gathering in Washington came as some Republican strategists caution the party's voters are not worried enough about the risk that Democrats could gain control of Congress in the Nov. 6 elections, when a third of the Senate and all House of Representatives seats are up for a vote.

"This is the most important midterm of our lifetime because it's setting the direction of our country, and we've got to take it just that seriously over these next six and a half weeks," said Mark Harris, a Republican running for a U.S. House seat in North Carolina that is considered highly competitive.

During a panel about the elections, Harris and others asked for more help from activists.

"We've got to get out there and work very hard to stop this destructive anti-freedom agenda," said Mark Green, a Republican candidate for Congress in Tennessee.

The concerns echo those of Republican strategists who say they are seeing complacency across the country. Democrats are currently favored to take the House and have growing confidence of adding the two Senate seats that would give them control of that chamber.

"They don’t seem to grasp what is at stake, and they don’t seem to believe the polls," strategist Ford O'Connell said of Republican voters.

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, disagreed, saying he felt voters were starting to sense the gravity of the situation.

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"They’re beginning to see the numbers that this is a risk – look at the polling numbers, Congress is not in held in high esteem," said Perkins, whose group advocates for conservative social issues and organized the event.

Republicans are touting the strong U.S. economy and tax cuts passed by Congress in December, while Democrats are hoping anger at Trump, particularly among women and minority voters, will hand them victory.

Several attendees at the gathering seemed unconvinced that Democrats present a significant electoral threat.

"Republicans are going to come out pretty good," said Jim Whitefield, 54, of Tecumseh, Oklahoma, who called polls and news reports that Democrats could win the House "fake news."

David Smith, 49, a Christian minister from Chicago, Illinois, who attended the summit with his seven children, said conservatives risked getting complacent after winning political power but activists were working to make voters more engaged.

"I'm optimistic from what I'm hearing that the blue wave may be overstated," he said.

(Reporting by Ginger Gibson; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Alistair Bell)

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