Some Democrats try to bring re­li­gious vot­ers back to party

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY DAVID SHERFINSKI AND DAVE BOYER

Af­ter a lack­lus­ter per­for­mance among re­li­gious vot­ers in 2016, some of the Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial con­tenders have vowed to do bet­ter in 2020, mov­ing to hire per­son­nel charged with sell­ing the candidates — and their party — to the de­vout.

The Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee has also brought on a new faith outreach di­rec­tor, who has be­gun a lis­ten­ing tour with re­li­gious lead­ers in the run-up to next year’s elec­tions.

The moves are a recog­ni­tion of the party’s strug­gles to at­tract re­li­giously ob­ser­vant vot­ers, par­tic­u­larly evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tians, in any sig­nif­i­cant way in re­cent pres­i­den­tial elec­tions.

“They’re read­ing the elec­torate right — that there’s a lot of vot­ers who want to come over and sup­port Demo­cratic candidates,” said Doug Pagitt, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the group Vote Com­mon Good. “Just like you would with any other group of par­tic­u­lar style or in­ter­est or cares and con­cerns, you want to make sure that you have some­body on your team that’s help­ing you think through how you’re go­ing to con­nect with that con­stituency.”

Sen. Cory A. Booker of New Jersey and South Bend, In­di­ana, Mayor Pete But­tigieg have sought faith outreach co­or­di­na­tors for their cam­paigns.

They and oth­ers have also not been shy about talk­ing up their faith while on the cam­paign trail.

Mr. But­tigieg, who is gay, has even picked a fight with Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence over re­li­gion, us­ing his own Epis­co­pal re­li­gion to ac­cuse Mr. Pence of push­ing anti-gay poli­cies.

Con­ser­va­tive lead­ers doubt the ef­forts will amount to much.

Pres­i­dent Trump has built up a reser­voir of sup­port among evan­gel­i­cals with his record of ju­di­cial ap­point­ments and shep­herd­ing through pro-life poli­cies, and the Democrats’ agenda and pol­icy stances put them out of bounds for many re­li­gious vot­ers.

“What’s the wig­gle room now?” asked Ralph Reed, founder of the Faith and Free­dom Coali­tion, which hosted Mr. Trump at the group’s “Road to Ma­jor­ity” con­fer­ence Wed­nes­day in Wash­ing­ton.

Mr. Reed said Democrats who want to try to reach re­li­gious vot­ers should “at least speak au­then­ti­cally about your own faith and why you be­lieve what you do.”

For­mer Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial Ju­lian Cas­tro, who is Catholic, took that path in an in­ter­view pub­lished this week by Re­li­gion News Ser­vice. He said his pro­gres­sive val­ues are in line with the teach­ings of Je­sus Christ.

“It’s amaz­ing to me to see pro­gres­sives and Democrats — over the last four years es­pe­cially — put in this box of some­how not liv­ing up to our moral ideals or ethical ideals,” he said in the in­ter­view.

Mr. But­tigieg also did “frankly a very good job” of talk­ing about his own re­li­gion, Mr. Reed said. But he made a mis­take in at­tack­ing the re­li­gious right and Mr. Pence.

“I didn’t stand up there to­day [at the con­fer­ence] and say if you’re a Catholic or an evan­gel­i­cal and you’re vot­ing Demo­crat, you need to ex­am­ine your soul, you need to get right with God, you’re a hyp­ocrite, you’re a fraud,” Mr. Reed said. “But that’s what he said about us. So, not smart.”

Democrats have been through this in­ter­nal de­bate be­fore.

In 2004, af­ter pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee John F. Kerry lost his chal­lenge to Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush, party strate­gists con­cluded that they didn’t com­pete well among so­cial val­ues vot­ers.

That sparked a few years of at­tempts at outreach. Democrats tried to em­brace Chris­tian lead­ers whose mes­sage shunned such is­sues as abor­tion and same-sex mar­riage and in­stead preached so­cial and eco­nomic jus­tice.

Then-Sen. Barack Obama in 2006 weighed in with a speech say­ing Democrats had largely “taken the bait” of con­ser­va­tive lead­ers, who he said re­mind evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tians that Democrats “dis­re­spect their val­ues and dis­like their church.”

“Over the long haul, I think we make a mis­take when we fail to ac­knowl­edge the power of faith in peo­ple’s lives — in the lives of the Amer­i­can peo­ple. And I think it’s time that we join a se­ri­ous de­bate about how to rec­on­cile faith with our mod­ern, plu­ral­is­tic democ­racy,” he said.

But Mr. Obama broke his own ad­vice in the 2008 elec­tion by com­plain­ing about vot­ers who “get bit­ter, they cling to guns or re­li­gion or an­tipa­thy to­ward peo­ple who aren’t like them or anti-im­mi­grant.”

The divide has only grown deeper. The Demo­cratic Party’s plat­form urges an ex­pan­sion of abor­tion rights, and nu­mer­ous high party of­fi­cials say there is no place for dis­sent in their party on abor­tion and ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity.

“You can al­ways reach out to a vot­ing group, but it’s al­most im­pos­si­ble for it to work if you’re pur­su­ing poli­cies that that group com­pletely re­jects,” said Gary Bauer, pres­i­dent of Amer­i­can Val­ues and a for­mer Rea­gan ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial.

Deb­o­rah Hom­mer of Vir­ginia, a tea party mem­ber at­tend­ing the Road to Ma­jor­ity con­fer­ence, laughed out loud when asked about the Democrats’ outreach to faith-based vot­ers.

“Why do I laugh? Be­cause it’s not sin­cere,” she said. “Th­ese peo­ple hate God, they hate re­li­gion. They mock it all the time. Th­ese peo­ple are de­vi­ous. They’re go­ing to do any­thing they can to get ‘Cen­ter Amer­ica.’ This is just an­other po­lit­i­cal stunt for them. Of course they’re go­ing to do some­thing like that.”

But Mr. Pagitt said Democrats have op­por­tu­ni­ties. “It does feel like there’s a lot more com­mon pur­pose right now, cer­tainly than there has been since 2008,” he said.

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