Mark Silk pointed me to today’s CBS poll showing that white evangelicals support John McCain over Barack Obama 58 to 24, with 15 percent undecided. As Mark points out, if those 15 percent break 50-50, Obama’s 31-32% share would be a major improvement on Kerry’s 21% share in 2004. A ten point gain among a bloc that makes up approximately a quarter of the electorate seems like a heck of a payoff.
A couple of caveats, of course: That 50-50 break is a big if — there’s a case to be made that the undecideds could break strongly in either direction — and it isn’t clear how white evangelicals are defined here, so we might have an apples-to-oranges issue.
However, the potential gain here could be a game-changer. It reminds me of Bush’s 9-point gain among Latino voters in 2004. His campaign saw an opening with a solid Democratic constituency, reached out, made big gains, and set the precedent that the Democrats couldn’t take them for granted. (As Latino evangelicals are demonstrating this year.) If the Democrats pull this off among white evangelicals, that’s roughly 2.5 million votes picked up, and a couple of swing states sewn up
It bears mention that Bill Clinton won one-third of white evangelicals in 1992 and 1996, so Obama’s potential success isn’t exactly unprecedented. But Clinton no doubt got a boost from actually being a Southern Baptist running against classic country club Republicans. The real question, in my mind, isn’t whether the Obama campaign’s outreach is worthwhile. It’s whether future Democratic candidates’ success among white evangelicals will depend on their personas as opposed to their strategy and infrastructure. Time will tell.
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Save a few still undecided House races, the midterm election that has been consuming our lawmakers–and our newspapers–for the past few months is finally over. Where does this leave us here in the faith world? With a little breathing room and, we hope, with a new Congress that will be willing to work with the faith community on those common good issues that were so neglected by the previous Congress. There is already evidence that politicians–with their jobs now secured for at least a couple more years–are turning back to the issues, and are focusing their energy on issues that are near and dear to many faith groups.
Our newsreel today included an article on plans to raise the federal minimum wage, an effort that faith leaders have been working hard at in many states across the country. With ballot initiatives to raise state minimum wage levels passing in six more states this year, Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi has now declared that a federal minimum wage increase will be on the agenda in the first 100 days of the new Congress.
The National Religious Campaign Against Torture will be happy to hear that some of their hard work seems to have paid off, as another newsreel article declared today that the month-old military tribunal bill would be in danger just as soon as the new Members of Congress got their hands on it. And
Evangelicals are already calling for the President to work with the newest lawmakers to combat global warming.
The prospects for the faith community seem bright as work begins again up on the hill–assuming the new Congress can keep on track despite the upcoming presidential election. Though it seems that those who claim the 2008 presidential race started November 8th may be right given the number of potential candidate pairings already up on Pollster, I personally hope that the new Congress will set some time aside to fulfill their promises to work for our common good.
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Peter Steinfels has a column in Sunday’s New York Times that discusses the plethora of voters guides available from faith groups across the ideological spectrum. It’s well worth reading, and mentions a couple of guides put out by FPL partners. One, by Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, and another from Sojourners. Steinfels’ stock in trade is American Catholicism, and he draws interesting comparisons between the balanced pragmatism of Catholics in Alliance and the rigid moralism of conservative Catholic groups.
Money comparison: conservative Catholic guides were originally released as ‘competition’ for the US Bishops, while the Catholics in Alliance guide ‘echos the Bishops’ Faithful Citizenship.’
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