In the 72 hours since I laid out the first 5 of 12 steps that could help rejuvenate John McCain’s flagging Faith and Values outreach, his Faith and Values outreach has somehow flagged a bit more!
Not happily for the Senator from Arizona, stories about his woes with conservative Evangelicals are proliferating. See for example this article from CNN, or listen to this lively discussion on NPR’s To the Point where host Warren Olney interviews journalist Wayne Slater, Evangelical leader Mark DeMoss, Professor Ronald Walters, and me (“Can the Democrats Close the God Gap,” June 11th).
Even less happily for McCain, Captain Barack Obama (who I recently likened to a grounded fighter jet) took to the air and flew a dizzying array of Faith and Values sorties over the past three days. Here he is charming clergy, including T.D. Jakes, in Chicago. Here he is inaugurating his Joshua Generation Project. Here is the political action committee known as The Matthew 25 Network revving up for some serious fundraising on his behalf.
In terms of religious politicking, the first week of the general election goes to Obama, hands down. The McCain people need to regroup with dispatch. On Tuesday, I proposed that they quickly and quietly shift resources away from their pointless pursuit of conservative Evangelicals (who will either stay home on November 4th or vote for McCain, probably the latter).
Instead, the Maverick should use his positions on abortion, immigration and foreign policy to target other constituencies. Let’s start with the constituencies. Then we will move on to pressing problems he needs to address:
Step Six: Energize pro-Life Catholic voters: If there existed a university devoted to the study of Faith and Values politicking, a course on “The Catholic Vote” would surely be its astrophysics. It does take an advanced degree to make sense of Catholic voting behavior. And it takes divine intervention to unify them behind one presidential candidate. The diverse cultures of American Catholicism, as well as the Church’s complex views on politics, make it very difficult for strategists to wrangle them into a bloc vote formation.
But for McCain there is some good news. His decades of pro-Life advocacy in the Senate should guarantee him a sizable chunk of a group that gave George W. Bush 52 percent of its vote in 2004. Too, anti-abortion Catholics might give McCain something he desperately lacks: Enthusiastic Religious Voters.
Enthusiastic Religious Voters are a many-splendored thing (just ask Karl Rove about White Evangelicals and watch him compose Haikus in their honor). They work phone banks, go door-to-door, badger their (undecided) friends at dinner parties, attend fundraisers, host fundraisers, pray for you, etc.
In head-to-heads with Hillary Clinton, Obama had difficulties with Catholics. No conclusive explanation has emerged for his troubles and it is imperative that the McCain people figure out why. Fast.
Step Seven: Latino Catholics: As for Latino Catholics, 68% voted for John Kerry in 2004. This is one place where McCain can make some noise. Once again, Clinton exposed Obama’s vulnerabilities with this group in the primary season. By bucking his party’s views on immigration reform, McCain has earned himself the right to plead his case and to be taken seriously by this audience.
Step Eight: Latino Evangelicals: Here McCain needs to consolidate previous GOP gains. In the last election “Los Evangelicos” gave 56% of their vote to Bush. McCain seems poised to hold this advantage. However, the hard-charging Obama, who is probably learning the lyrics to the Spanish-language version of “Amazing Grace” as we speak, will give him a lot to worry about.
Step Nine: The Jewish Vote/Foreign Policy: In the “killing-two-birds-with-one-stone” category, McCain can make inroads into the Jewish vote all the while drawing attention to Obama’s Achilles Heel: his lack of experience in foreign policy. McCain does not need to walk into synagogues in blue New York and talk about Elohim or Abraham or his admiration for the teachings of Maimonides. He does need to walk into synagogues in Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio and talk about Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas.
Step Ten: Obama and the radical religious Left: Although they all look alike to conservative pundits, there are profound differences between liberals and radical leftists. The latter, for example, are frothing with anti-American sentiments that make for exquisite You Tube viewing.
If his numbers keep sagging, the McCain campaign will have to make an issue of Obama’s relation to Trinity United Church of Christ. (Can the religious outreach team and Opposition Research division do lunch next week?) But in order to do so, he has to figure out how to convince Americans that his own associations with toxic pastors are less worrisome than those of Obama.
Step Eleven: Faith-based vice-presidential selection: Sometimes a running mate is chosen in hopes that he or she can deliver a particular state. Sometimes in hopes that he or she possesses qualities lacking in the frontrunner. But what if McCain were to think of his Number Two in terms of god votes? He could select a Catholic (e,g., Bobby Jindal of Louisiana). He might also consider Mitt Romney (who would probably bring about 5 million or so Mormon voters with him). And if he really wanted those conservative White Evangelicals, then he would bring Mike Huckabee on board. That ought to do it.
Step Twelve: Tame the Media (Obama Homerism): Hillary Clinton’s team had no answer for what, in a just world, should have never been a problem: many in the Big Liberal Media were enthralled by Obama. A disturbing number of journalists and opinion makers have set their phasers to “anoint” and this is a huge dilemma for McCain.
This is not to say that there aren’t many nasty, vile, unethical media organs out there who are attacking Barack and Michelle Obama. Though, his campaign does seem to have a strategy for dealing with them, and few of these outlets could be considered respectable.
McCain, by contrast, has no strategy, and Obama’s media champions are respectable. In terms of religion this flared up two days ago as Newsweek journalists concluded–prematurely I think and without providing sufficient analysis–that Obama’s difficulties with Jews were a “myth.” They were called on this by the National Review.
But given that many on the Right won’t go to the wall for McCain, he might think about hiring his own bloggers and talking heads to monitor the hagiographic media descriptions of Obama’s Faith and Values outreach.
(For more information about religion and the candidates check out Faith 2008http://berkleycenter.georgetown.edu by the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs.)
By Jacques Berlinerblau |
June 13, 2008; 7:55 AM ET
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