Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Obama Seeking Evangelical Votes

The NYTimes, once again, has an article on Barack Obama seeking Evangelical votes that during the last two elections went to Bush--according to this article's estimation, they made up about 25% of Bush's support.

Obama is relying upon the shifting ground of Evangelical positions on issues such as the environment, poverty, AIDS, and genocide. See my previous posting on Evangelicals for Obama from May 11, and my general posting on Religion, especially Evangelicals, and the Democratic Party, from last summer.

How will he do this? The Article says:

"Between now and November, the Obama forces are planning as many as 1,000 house parties and dozens of Christian rock concerts, gatherings of religious leaders, campus visits and telephone conference calls to bring together voters of all ages motivated by their faith to engage in politics. It is the most intensive effort yet by a Democratic candidate to reach out to self-identified evangelical or born-again Christians and to try to pry them away from their historical attachment to the Republican Party."

I know that "Christian rock" may sound like an oxymoron, but nevertheless they are well-attended events. Reading on...

"On Tuesday, Mr. Obama is scheduled to deliver a speech about faith in Zanesville, Ohio, in a battleground section of a battleground state, one where Mr. Bush relied heavily on evangelical voters to provide his narrow margin of victory in 2004. Mr. Obama’s speech will follow by two days a trip by his Republican opponent, Senator John McCain, to visit the evangelist Billy Graham and his son the Rev. Franklin Graham, part of an effort by Mr. McCain to shore up his standing with religious conservatives."

As discussed previously, McCain has had a difficult time courting Evangelicals--see here. Getting the support of the evangelist giant, Billy Graham, who is widely respected among Evangelicals, could be a major boost for him. Again, back to the article:

"Mr. Obama is building his appeal in part on calls to heal political rifts and address human suffering. He is also drawing on his own characteristics and story, including his embrace of Christianity as an adult, a facility with biblical language and imagery and comfort in talking about how his religious beliefs animate his approach to public life.

"But the subject of religion has become entangled in the false rumor that he is a Muslim. And it has been complicated by the effects of his association with his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., whose brand of black liberation theology brought religion, race and patriotism into the campaign in ways not helpful to Mr. Obama. He also faces significant hurdles in appealing to religious voters because of his tolerance for abortion and same-sex marriage."

On Obama and Islam, see here. I hear liberation theology all the time, so I guess I find it less shocking to hear than the average U.S. citizen. Of course, I basically reside at the place where it began--Union Theological Seminary, where famous liberation theologian, James Cohn, still teaches.

Basically, the question boils down to whether Obama can get the Evangelicals who appear to be shifting in their positions on the environment, poverty, etc., to not get tripped up on the perennial voting issue (and the issue that no President has touched once elected) of abortion. But abortion, it seems, does not rally the conservative electorate as much as it used to, and its void is being filled by same-sex marriage. It has been a galvanizing issue for about a decade (if not longer), but recent decisions, especially in California, and the decision in my own state (NY) to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states (although not yet allowing same-sex marriages to be performed in NY itself), brings the issue into focus in a way that abortion has not been in focus for decades. Will same-sex marriage rally the conservative Evangelical base the same way abortion used to? Or will Evangelicals vote based upon a variety of factors, muddying the waters a little on assumed or expected party loyalty--by the way, even if they do not vote based only on these last two issues and vote on multiple platforms (Iraq war, environment, international relations, etc.), this does not mean that they will necessarily vote for Obama rather than McCain. But Obama does better at speaking about religion than McCain. His former pastor has made things more difficult, but it sounds much more strained when McCain speaks about faith.

Despite their intense dislike of McCain, some on the religious right have been firing at Obama lately. See here. On the other hand, Obama's director of religious affairs, is Joshua DuBois, a former pastor in the Assemblies of God, which is a major Pentecostal denomination.

“We’re not going to convince everybody,” said Mr. DuBois. “The most committed pro-lifers probably won’t vote for him. But others will be open to him because they see he’s a man of integrity, a person of faith who listens to and understands people of all religious backgrounds.”

According to the article, "The Obama campaign does not need to convince everybody in order to have an effect on the voting outcome in key states, only a relatively narrow slice of the religiously motivated voters who supported Mr. Bush by substantial margins in 2000 and 2004. And polls indicate that evangelicals and other religious voters are already migrating away from their overwhelming support of the Republicans, some because of disillusionment about the war, others because of concern about global warming, still others because of uncertainty about the economy."

These are all things we all already knew, but I found the following very interesting: "Mr. Obama won one important vote from the evangelical community when he received the endorsement of the Rev. Kirbyjon Caldwell, leader of a Methodist megachurch in Houston, who has long been close to Mr. Bush and who officiated at Jenna Bush’s wedding in May in Crawford, Tex. Mr. Caldwell denounced Mr. Dobson for his critique of Mr. Obama’s faith and has assembled a group of religious leaders to defend Mr. Obama."

And later on: "Mark DeMoss, a public relations executive who represents Franklin Graham and other church leaders and conservative religious organizations, said recently that Mr. Obama could conceivably win as much as 40 percent of the evangelical vote."

This seems rather high, but given that McCain will never garner as much support as Bush did, and Obama is actively seeking Evangelicals, it is perhaps possible, albeit remotely possible.

"Mr. DeMoss cited the meeting two weeks ago in Chicago in which Mr. Obama met privately with 30 religious leaders from many traditions and political persuasions, including several, like Mr. Graham, who were never likely to support him.

"Mr. Obama won praise for his openness to those who disagreed with him, Mr. DeMoss said, but he stood firm in his support for abortion rights and cemented opposition from those for whom that is a bedrock issue.

"Mr. Obama is also reaching out to young evangelicals, the so-called Joshua generation, a group that would seem to be a fertile ground for recruitment."

What is the "Joshua generation"? Other than the generation after Moses, does anyone know?

In sum, more than the past two elections, the Evangelical vote is up for grabs.

2 comments:

pastormike said...

I keep hearing rumors that Obama will be annoucing his veep this week, the only place I have been able to find any evidence supporting this is at a site called veep peek, was wondering if anyone has heard anything about these rumors or where I can read more about them.,? any truth behind the rumors. the only place i have been able to find anything about these rumors on the web is at the veep the site is http://www.theveep.com

Jared said...

I am actually not very sure about this, although both parties need to find their running mates soon.

On Obama's side, I doubt that he will pick Hillary Clinton. VP is not a bad position, but she has gained considerable authority in the US Senate, and probably would do the most good for the Democratic party there. Although she would pull more working class voters than Obama can. There are some John Edwards rumors, and Edwards seems to pull more working class voters. And Edwards concerns about poverty, etc., would be a boost.

There are some rumors that Obama may pick a retired US General, although Gen. Wesley Clark, a prominent figure, is perhaps too prominent, and the campaign he ran in 2004 was, in my opinion at least, lackluster.

There are a couple prominent women he could choose from among U.S. Governors. It would be interesting to choose Arizona's governor (Janet Napolitano), since that is McCain's home state. Kansas's governor (Kathleen Sebelius) may be good as well, since she might be able to pull a state that went to Bush last election.

It seems that Obama would do well to pick a non-traditional Democratic leader who can pull a more conservative vote, such as Sen. Jim Webb from Virginia.

On McCain's side, I have no idea. Few of the candidates would seem to work with McCain very well, but I may be wrong on that. Perhaps to balance his problems with Evangelical voters, he would choose Huckabee, but that might ruin his chances among swing voters. What I have heard, though, is that if Obama does not choose a woman, that McCain will. And I doubt that woman would be Condoleeza Rice, since she is too hawkish. Alaska's governor is a Republican woman (Sarah Palin)...but I have never heard much about her, perhaps because she's in Alaska (whereas the Democratic governors mentioned above have a little more national recognition).

In some ways, Obama has an embarrassment of riches of prominent possibilities (although some may be TOO prominent and TOO well-known). McCain has the opposite problem.