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The Deacon's Bench

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Religious voters — especially Catholics — may well have been the ones who turned the tide, according to analysts:

As Democrats conduct a grim postmortem on Tuesday’s elections, some liberal leaders say one diagnosis is already clear: the party’s outreach to religious voters was lifeless from the start.

Democrats took control of Congress in 2006 and the White House in 2008 in part because they wrested Catholics and some white Protestants from Republicans’ tight grip. Gains among those voters helped elect Democrats in rural and suburban areas that had long been GOP strongholds.

But in 2010, progressive leaders say, Democrats largely retreated to the same-old wonky language to explain their policies, and same-old political strategies to drum up voters — with predictable results.

“One of the ironies is that we had huge success with (faith outreach),” said Eric Sapp, a partner at Eleison Group, a consulting firm that worked on religious outreach for dozens of Democratic campaigns in 2006 and 2008 — but none this year.

“It’s part of why we are in power. It’s been rough to see us go back to that pre-2004 strategy that had kept us in the minority.”

Democrats, at least in the House, will again be in the minority, and their party’s hard-won gains among religious voters are largely gone. Sixty percent of weekly churchgoers voted for House GOP candidates on Tuesday, according to exit polls. Nearly seven in 10 white Protestants punched their ballot for the GOP, a six-percent surge from 2008, and up eight points from 2006.

Catholics swung even harder toward the GOP, according to the exit polls, with 54 percent voting for House Republicans, compared to 42 percent in 2008, and 44 percent in 2006. Catholics and Protestants combined to make up nearly 80 percent of the electorate on Tuesday.

Lackluster commitment from party leaders, a failure to connect their policies with moral values, and the dire economy all explain Democrats’ lack of success with religious voters, according to politicos and faith leaders.

“The God gap doesn’t explain these election results,” said Mike McCurry, a White House press secretary under Bill Clinton who has encouraged Democrats’ faith-based outreach. “It was driven by real anxiety people feel about the economy and their future — but there are moral and ethical components to that, too.”

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