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AS DUST SETTLES, A NATION TORN
VALUE-CENTERED VOTERS BELIEVE PRESIDENT BUSH HAS U.S. ON RIGHT TRACK

It's been easy for Bonnie Huntz to get out of bed in the mornings, ever since Election Day.

That's because Huntz -- and many others like her in Western New York and around the nation -- see the results of the election as a positive sign that the country is headed in the right direction.

"I felt really happy with the morals, that they played such a big role in the election," said Huntz, who with her husband, Al, owns Pro Multis, a Catholic book and gift shop in the Town of Tonawanda.

"I think we're on the right track," she said, "but I think we still have a long way to go."

Many people, when they went to the polls earlier this month, took their religious beliefs and moral compasses with them. Exit polling data showed that more people -- 22 percent overall -- cited "moral values" as the factor that determined their choice for president, over any other single issue, including the war in Iraq and jobs.

Pundits are now debating what the "moral values" vote means.

But those Western New Yorkers who view themselves as part of it feel like they know. They say it's a sign that Christian and other value-centered voters have decided to take control of the country they love.

"This country was founded on strong religious values," said Deborah Morgan, a Hamburg resident who feels satisfied and happy about President Bush's re-election. "My father's family and my mother's family fought the American Revolution for that. That's what this country was founded on. If you don't like it, go somewhere else."

Besides Bush's re-election, these voters also are celebrating something else: ballot referendums in 11 states that resulted in overwhelming approval for constitutional amendments that define marriage as the union of one man with one woman. Those referendums passed with majorities ranging from 57 percent in Oregon to 86 percent in Mississippi.

The same-sex marriage issue was a mobilizing one for Christians and conservatives this year, said Karl Eastlack, pastor of Eastern Hills Wesleyan Church in Clarence, one of Western New York's biggest congregations.

"This was a push-back election," Eastlack said. "There are a lot of people who feel that a liberal court was forcing something on the country that it wasn't ready for. That startled conservatives."

At Focus on the Family, a conservative Christian organization that became a mobilizing factor in this year's elections, leaders said the election marked a shift in the nation's culture.

"When you look at the big picture, there definitely has been a shift in the social agenda," said Carrie Gordon Earll, senior policy analyst for the Colorado Springs-based organization. "It just arrived. It showed up at the polls. It was measured."

Bans on same-sex marriage, Supreme Court nominations, human cloning and stem-cell research, and family values were most important to conservative voters this year, Earll said.

Voters also saw big differences in the characters of Bush and his challenger, John F. Kerry, she said.

One of those voters was Linda Schutrum, owner of Lighthouse Christian Bookstore in Hamburg, who said she "just feels right" about the results of the election.

"I think a lot of people voted for Bush because he doesn't tell you his values, he just says, 'I pray,' " said Schutrum. "And I believe he does pray."

But Schutrum, like other conservative voters, doesn't take this election to mean that everything will be as they prefer it from now on. There's lots of work still to be done, lots of issues still to worry about, these people said.

Still, some interpret the election as a positive sign that the United States still sees itself as a country that values its religious foundations.

"It does feel good to know there are enough people out there to say, 'We are a conservative country,' " said Eastlack, the pastor. "It's OK if countries evolve. People evolve. But there was a basic philosophy that there was a basic godliness about our country. There was a sense that there's a moral being that leads us, a being to whom we have to be accountable."

e-mail: cvogel@buffnews.com

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