Bush's Catholic Courtship Strategy
"If we lose any of the Catholic vote we'll lose the election," says a Bush campaign adviser.
President Bush was so eager for a meeting with Pope John Paul II that he recently flew overnight to Rome to cram in a visit before the pontiff--who said he couldn't rearrange his schedule--left town the next day. While there, Bush was greeted by angry anti-war protesters and had his knuckles rapped by the pope over the war in Iraq.
Why would Bush subject himself to this? Answer: Bush badly needs Catholic votes.
"Catholics are the key," says Deal Hudson, editor ofCrisis
magazine and a Bush campaign adviser. "If we lose any of the Catholic vote we'll lose the election." And to an unprecedented degree, the White House and a network of conservative Catholics have been working hard to get several million American Catholics to vote Republican.
There are 64 million Catholics in the United States. During the 2000 election, Bush received 47% of the Catholic vote to Gore's 49%. In 2004, the Republican strategy is to sway Catholic centrists while increasing turnout among "traditionalist" Catholics who attend Mass regularly.
According to a recent poll of 3,500 voters conducted at theUniversity of Akron
by John Green, Bush now has the edge, 49% to 40%, among Catholics who are regular--once a week or more--church-goers, while Kerry leads among less regular Mass-attending Catholics, 58% to 35%. Among all voters, Bush is ahead of Kerry, 44% to 43%.
Green then sliced the Catholic vote into groups of "traditionalists," "centrists," and "modernists." These groupings refer to Catholic beliefs, but not necessarily behavior; in other words, some modernists may be regular church-goers while some traditionalists may stay home from Mass. Bush is winning among traditionalists (60% to 30%), and Kerry is winning among the modernists (61% to 33%). But, signicantly, Kerry is also slightly ahead (45% to 41%) among the centrists.
How are Republicans trying to get Catholic votes?
First, they've organized. The White House meets weekly with Catholic conservatives, including Hudson and Frank Pavone, the head ofPriests for Life