Catholics blessed with a piv­otal vote

How they vote in bat­tle­ground states may de­cide win­ner

Daily Press - - Nation & World - By David Crary

For decades, Ro­man Catholic vot­ers have been a piv­otal swing vote in U.S. pres­i­den­tial elec­tions, with a ma­jor­ity back­ing the win­ner — whether Repub­li­can or Demo­crat — nearly ev­ery time.

How they vote in the bat­tle­ground states this year could well de­cide the out­come, and the ri­val cam­paigns are tar­get­ing them with fer­vent ap­peals to vote based on their faith.

Ad­vo­cates for Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump say a faith­ful Catholic can­not vote for Demo­cratic nom­i­nee Joe Bi­den be­cause of his sup­port for abor­tion rights.

Crit­ics of Trump say he is too di­vi­sive and cal­lous to merit the vote of any faith­ful Catholic. The death last week of Supreme Court Jus­tice Ruth Bader Gins­burg brings into clearer fo­cus the chasm be­tween the two sides.

The cam­paigns are com­pet­ing to win over peo­ple like Jean­nie French, of Pitts­burgh, Penn­syl­va­nia, who has strug­gled with her de­ci­sion. She’s a mem­ber of Democrats for Life, loath to vote for Bi­den be­cause of his stance on abor­tion, but dis­mayed by Repub­li­cans’ po­si­tions on so­cial is­sues.

Just a week ago, French, a real es­tate con­sul­tant who does vol­un­teer work at her church, said she hadn’t made up her mind, and was con­sid­er­ing vot­ing for a third-party can­di­date.

But now, with the Supreme Court va­cancy, she’s lean­ing to­ward Trump as he pledges to nom­i­nate a con­ser­va­tive woman.

“A vote for Trump will mean that I need to work even harder for fair wages, en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues, pe­nal re­form, im­mi­grant care and other so­cial con­cerns, but it also means that we get the

op­por­tu­nity to get things right on abor­tion,” French said via email. “For this Catholic, it might just be the right call.”

Bi­den, a prac­tic­ing Catholic who car­ries a Rosary, would be just the sec­ond Catholic pres­i­dent af­ter John F. Kennedy. Trump, who iden­ti­fies as Pres­by­te­rian, is an in­fre­quent church­goer.

On Wed­nes­day, Trump promised to sign an ex­ec­u­tive or­der that would re­quire health care providers to pro­vide med­i­cal care to all ba­bies born alive as he makes an elec­tion-year push to ap­peal to vot­ers who op­pose abor­tion.

In a video mes­sage to the Na­tional Catholic Prayer Break­fast, Trump said his “born alive ex­ec­u­tive or­der” would en­sure that ba­bies born alive no mat­ter the cir­cum­stances “re­ceive the med­i­cal care that they de­serve.”

“This is our sacro­sanct moral duty,” Trump said.

A Pew Re­search Cen­ter

poll over the sum­mer found 50% of Catholics say­ing they sup­port Trump in the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, com­pared with 49% back­ing Bi­den. A Pew Re­search Cen­ter anal­y­sis of vot­ers in 2016 showed 52% of Catholics voted for Trump.

The event’s chair­man, Mark Ran­dall, praised Trump and his ad­min­is­tra­tion for seeking to cur­tail abor­tion and pro­tect re­li­gious free­dom.

In sev­eral bat­tle­ground states, in­clud­ing Penn­syl­va­nia, Wis­con­sin and Florida, more than 20% of adults are Catholic.

Trump won all three in 2016, but re­cent polls show Bi­den with mod­est leads in each, fu­el­ing in­tense com­pe­ti­tion for Catholics’ sup­port.

“The swing­ing por­tion of the Catholic vote swings more than other vot­ing seg­ments — that’s the tar­get­rich seg­ment,” said Brian Burch, pres­i­dent of the con­ser­va­tive ad­vo­cacy group CatholicVo­te.org.

Burch be­lieves Trump ap­peals to th­ese vot­ers, based on his anti-abor­tion poli­cies and sup­port for “school choice” that might ben­e­fit fam­i­lies pre­fer­ring Catholic schools.

Last week, CatholicVo­te.org an­nounced a $9.7 mil­lion cam­paign tar­get­ing bat­tle­ground Catholics.

Sev­eral other groups are woo­ing th­ese vot­ers, in­clud­ing Catholics for Trump, whose ad­vi­sory board in­cludes for­mer House Speaker Newt Gin­grich, and Catholics f or Bi­den, launched Sept. 3 via an on­line event.

Among those ad­dress­ing the launch was Sis­ter Si­mone Campbell, who heads the Net­work Lobby for Catholic So­cial Jus­tice.

This year the net­work will again mount a na­tion­wide Nuns on the Bus cam­paign, in­clud­ing on­line events tar­get­ing bat­tle­ground states.

“Catholics can­not be true to their faith and vote for Don­ald Trump in Novem

ber,” Campbell said. “Pres­i­dent Trump is do­ing ev­ery­thing in his power to di­vide us, while our economy and health care sys­tems col­lapse un­der the weight of the COVID-19 pan­demic.”

Catholics for Trump is or­ga­niz­ing meet-ups in var­i­ous states, in­clud­ing one in Florida fea­tur­ing the Rev. Frank Pavone, a Catholic priest and anti-abor­tion ac­tivist who calls the Democrats “the party of death.”

Catholics for Trump hoped to launch its 2020 cam­paign at a rally in Wis­con­sin, but it was post­poned due to the coronaviru­s outbreak. Mil­wau­kee Arch­bishop Jerome Lis­tecki sought to clar­ify that the church hi­er­ar­chy was not a spon­sor.

“The Catholic Church and the Arch­dio­cese of Mil­wau­kee are not en­dors­ing the rally,” Lis­tecki said. “The mis­sion of the church is re­li­gious, not po­lit­i­cal.”

This month an­other Wis­con­sin bishop spoke out af­ter the Rev. James Alt­man, a parish priest in La Crosse, de­clared dur­ing a di­a­tribe on YouTube, “You can­not be Catholic and be a Demo­crat.”

La Crosse Bishop Wil­liam Cal­la­han, aware that the video in­flamed par­ti­san pas­sions, crit­i­cized Alt­man for en­tan­gling the church in scan­dal.

Among Wis­con­sin Catholics prais­ing Alt­man was Kevin O’Brien, co-founder of a move­ment called Men of Christ.

“When you look at Catholic prin­ci­ples, what Alt­man said is true,” said O’Brien, a for­mer pro football player who lives in Pe­wau­kee.

As for the Supreme Court va­cancy, O’Brien said many Catholics are pray­ing for Trump to ap­point a jus­tice who will “se­cure laws that are just for all peo­ple, es­pe­cially the un­born.”

Bar­bara Pfarr, a Mil­wau­kee-based nun ac­tive in the Nuns on the Bus cam­paign, has posted crit­i­cisms of Trump on Face­book yet be­moans the po­lit­i­cal po­lar­iza­tion that’s in­ten­si­fy­ing this year.

“I have tried to be bet­ter about be­ing cyn­i­cal, about de­mo­niz­ing the other side,” she said. “I’m not very good at it.”

A Wis­con­sin poll­ster, Charles Franklin of Mar­quette Univer­sity Law School, said his polling shows Bi­den lead­ing Trump in Wis­con­sin but trail­ing among Catholics.

Franklin doesn’t be­lieve abor­tion is the dom­i­nant is­sue for many Catholics, given that a ma­jor­ity in his polling sup­port abor­tion rights to some de­gree.

But in Florida, de­vout Catholic John Doolit­tle, a for­mer Navy SEAL who works for a fit­ness and re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion firm, said abor­tion is a para­mount is­sue for him.

“My faith is a very large part of my po­lit­i­cal de­ci­sion­mak­ing and abor­tion is a big part of that,” the St. Peters­burg res­i­dent said. “I can­not sup­port some­one who’s OK with it.”

MORRY GASH/AP

Church­go­ers par­tic­i­pate in a pro­ces­sion Sept. 12 at the Holy Apos­tles Church in Mil­wau­kee. For decades, Ro­man Catholic vot­ers have been a piv­otal swing vote in U.S. pres­i­den­tial elec­tions, with a ma­jor­ity back­ing the win­ner, nearly ev­ery time.

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