For over two decades, the religious right -- the "hard base" of the Republican Party -- has grown to be a driving force for GOP political success. The "values voters" base will be especially important to Republicans this November. Lower mid-term turnout and general public dissatisfaction with the country's political direction make a solid showing among the conservative faithful critical to GOP success. Double that in the South. That's why Republican strategists are terrified by the news they're reading in dispatches such as this one from the AP earlier this week, which reveals a growing sense of frustration and betrayal from the church pews to the religious right leadership: "Conservative Christians are somewhat disenchanted with Republicans," said Kenyn Cureton, vice president for convention relations with the executive committee of the Southern Baptist Convention, the nation's largest Protestant denomination with nearly 16 million members. Religious conservatives are unhappy the Republican-led Congress hasn't paid enough attention to "values issues," he said, noting that even a push this summer against same-sex marriage came too late. "It has not escaped our notice that they waited until just a few months from the November elections to address our agenda," Cureton said. Polls show Cureton of the SBC isn't alone, and that Bush's job performance is a lightning rod: Exit polls showed 78 percent of white evangelicals voted for him in 2004. But an Associated Press-Ipsos poll conducted Sept. 11-13 indicated 42 percent of white evangelicals disapprove of the job Bush has done as president. His approval rating among evangelicals is still better than he gets among Americans generally, but the poll shows Democrats have made slight gains among moderate white evangelical voters. Rather than running into the arms of Democrats, what the GOP really fears is that dispirited "values voters" will just stay home -- a scary prospect with tight races developing in states like Tennessee and Virginia. How do conservative leaders hope to move these voters from the pews to the polls? As my colleague R. Neal reported yesterday, the weapon of choice is ballot initiatives against gay marriage -- which now rivals abortion as the calling-card issue for the religious right. Fortunately for the GOP, battleground states Tennessee and Virginia are among the three Southern states that haven't already decided the gay marriage question (South Carolina is the other). The AP notes that James Dobson of the emerging powerhouse Focus on the Family is especially interested in Tennessee, building up an army of "church and county coordinators." But the religious right is also being hurt from within. The Christian Coalition continues to crumble, causing conservatives to lose a coordinating force in their election machinery, now being scattered to a host of competing groups. Recent events have isolated hard-right evangelicals even further. Last weekend, a widely-touted "Values Voter Summit" hosted by the Family Research Council drew stars of the Republican Party including Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to Sen. George Allen (R-VA) and Gov. Mike Huckabee (R-AK). Designed to boost spirits and turn around GOP fortunes, the gathering instead descended into controversy when a Bishop Wellington Boone took the stage and announced, “I want the gays mad at me.” He succeeded, and made others mad as well when he revealed his strategy to get "the gays" to be more forceful in challenging him: Back in the days when I was a kid, and we see guys that don’t stand strong on principle, we call them “faggots.” … [People] that don’t stand up for what’s right, we say, “You’re sissified out!” “You’re a sissy!” That means you don’t stand up for principles. [Listen to the audio here; the awkward silence is deafening.] Another Christian soul, Rev. Dwight McKissic of Texas, later declared to the GOP gathering that the gay rights movement was "inspired from the pit of hell itself." This week, Rev. Jerry Falwell picked up on the theme and kept the negative controversy surrounding conservative fundamentalists at a high boil, refusing to back down from statements equating Sen. Hillary Clinton with Lucifer. UPDATE: Diane Rehm and I must be having a mind-meld: her show today is focused on "Christian Voters," and has this description: A recent poll suggests a growing number of conservative Christians have become disillusioned with the Republican party. We'll hear what's mobilizing Christian voters on the right and left of the political spectrum.