The National Catholic Review
Here at America, we have been talking about the central role white, ethnic Catholics will play in the election for over a year. They are the quintessential swing voters, pulled towards the Democrats on economic issues, pulled towards the GOP on social issues. The fastest growing demographic in the electorate, Latinos, are overwhelmingly Catholic. This past weekend, Barack Obama’s relative inability to break into Hillary Clinton’s support from ethnic Catholics, compared to his inroads among other groups, became the subject of an article at Politico.com which, in turn, became the subject of a fascinating look at how the media and a campaign interact. The Obama campaign can protest all it wants, but the numbers do not lie. In state after state, Obama’s percentage among Catholics lags behind his percentage among all voters. Part of this is the result of his huge margins among black voters and the fact that there are relatively few black Catholics. But the Obama campaign has been slow to undertake the kind of outreach to Catholic voters that would improve his margins. It has surprised me for a long time that, in his year long debate with Clinton over her vote to authorize the Iraq war and his opposition to that war, Obama has not once cited the fact that Pope John Paul II, who was nothing if not geo-politically shrewd, also denounced the Iraq war at the time and his predecessor, Benedict XVI, has continued to denounce the U.S. occupation there. John Paul II did not have to be briefed on the Pentagon’s force projections to reach his conclusion. He knew something about being from a country occupied by a superpower, and could foresee difficulties that President Bush and Sen. Clinton could not. He knew that foreign troops are rarely greeted as liberators. In short, the pope showed precisely the kind of judgment that Obama claims he has and that Clinton lacked on the most critical vote of the past few years. Previous posts have discussed the ways Obama can reach out to Latino Catholics, with derivative appeal to ethnic Catholics, on the issue of immigration reform. He mentioned his support for the "Dream Act" during a debate with Clinton but he did not use the key word "family" when discussing immigration reform. Neither did Clinton. We will know tomorrow if his outreach to Latinos in Texas has worked or not. And, we will see if the white ethnic Catholics in Ohio break more heavily for Obama than they have in previous states. It is facetious to argue that how a candidate does in any given state’s primary indicates how they will do in the general election. Obama makes much of the fact he has done well in "red states" like Kansas and Idaho but he did well among Democrats in those states and it is difficult to imagine Idaho voting for any Democrat in yours or my lifetime. But, next November, ethnic Catholics will be decisive in such swing states as Ohio, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa. Latinos hold the balance of power in swing states Nevada, New Mexico and Colorado. The Obama campaign needs to spend less time hectoring the reporters at Politico.com and more time figuring out how to appeal to Catholics. Michael Sean Winters

Comments

Anonymous | 3/3/2008 - 6:52pm
Just a reminder folks that we ask you to include your full name with comments. We've received a few good responses to this post without a full name attached. Thanks for reading!