Democrats Find Religion on the Campaign Trial
This time it may be the Democrats who are getting religion.
Former Sen. John Edwards invoked "My Lord" in the first Democratic presidential debate when asked about moral influences on his life. At a campaign event on the day of the Virginia Tech massacre, he offered a prayer and -- in a pointed break from Democratic candidates' usual wariness of offending religious minorities -- closed with the words "in Christ's name."
Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) comfortably works in references to his faith at public appearances. Even before his presidential candidacy, he gave a well-received speech arguing for a greater role for religion in politics and cultivated relationships with influential church leaders, including mega-church pastor and best-selling author Rick Warren.
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) included a paragraph about faith in the official biography on her campaign Web site. And in her Senate re-election campaign last year, she drew notice in the New York press for wearing a cross at some public events.
Reversing recent political history, it's the leading Republican candidates who for various reasons have so far been reluctant to speak too much about matters of faith.
Former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, a divorced Catholic, holds liberal views on abortion and gay rights. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a divorced Episcopalian, has a tense relationship with leaders of the Religious Right. And former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is a devout Mormon whose religion arouses suspicion among many evangelicals.
"Give the advantage to the Democrats at this point," said Rich Cizik, vice president for governmental affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals. "You would have to conclude that the Democrats have a lot more interest in faith than the Republicans based on what they've had to say."
Read it all. The article is worth a read. It points out that both Clinton and Edwards had strong religious roots from childhood, and that Obama had an adilt conversion expereince, but that there are also political dynamics that explain the new focus on faith by the Democrats:
But party leaders were alarmed by the 2004 election returns. The Democrats narrowly lost the presidential election, and one big reason was massive support for Republicans among the large portion of voters who regularly attend religious services. In a close election, even a slight gain in support from such a sizable group could swing the outcome.
A series of internal polls by the Democratic National Committee during the next year concluded that about half the electorate places as much or more weight on their own religious faith as they do on conventional issues in casting their votes. The same polling suggested that many of those "faith voters" were not primarily motivated by such hot-button social issues as abortion or gay marriage but mainly were looking for a clear moral vision from candidates.
Since then, Democratic candidates who have made it a priority to engage voters on issues of faith have done well in some high-visibility competitive races. In 2005, Virginia Democratic Gov. Tim Kaine, a former Catholic lay missionary, won despite heavy criticism from his opponent for opposing the death penalty, which is popular in Virginia. Kaine explained his position as a matter of religious conviction.
In last year's midterm elections, Democrats in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan also won competitive elections and did well among churchgoers after waging early and concerted efforts to attract religious voters.Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, an abortion-rights supporter and an ordained minister, virtually tied his Republican opponent among white evangelicals. Strickland advertised early on Christian radio, met often during his campaign with faith leaders and used phone banks staffed by Catholic nuns and religious volunteers to explain his positions to swing religious voters.
While social conservatives may be firmly anchored in the Republican Party, there are also signs that religious Americans more broadly are growing increasingly interested in issues that favor Democrats.
Catholic congregations are increasingly discontented with the war in Iraq, which the church's hierarchy has vigorously opposed from the start.
At the same time, many prominent evangelical leaders have sought to broaden the movement's public policy agenda beyond such traditional cultural issues as abortion, gay rights and prayer in schools, which tend to favor Republicans. Evangelicals are showing interest in AIDS in Africa, the genocide in Darfur and "creation care," their preferred term for environmental protection.