With Election Day finally having come and gone, God-o-Meter is closing up shop till 2012–or at least 2010. Till then, get your faith and politics fix over at Beliefnet editor-in-chief Steve Waldman’s blog.
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The first priorities for Barack Obama’s administration will be the economy and a variety of foreign policy issues. But the burgeoning religious left, which worked so hard to get Obama elected, expects some movement on its issues, including a robust White House office of faith-based initiatives, poverty reduction, and reducing demand for abortion.
Here’s what Matthew 25 Network founder Mara Vanderslice (pictured) told God-o-Meter about this last issue:
I hope that an Obama administration is going to prove to religious Americans that supported him that he’s going to provide common ground on the abortion issue. He spoke directly about wanting to reduce the number of abortions and it’s one of the first things people are looking for: How is he going to legislate and lead on that issue?
I wish they had been more vocal on this intention to reduce abortion [on the campaign trail]. He [Obama] said it at different times and locations but the pro-life groups got their message out very effectively, painting Obama as an extremist on the issue. I don’t think that’s true but they had some success with that. So it’s up to a new Obama administration to show us he’s going to find that common ground.
Many in the religious left see such untraditional Democratic policy initiatives as abortion reduction not only as a genuine priority for their movement but also as a political necessity if Obama and the Democrats want to hold onto their gains among certain faith constituencies, from white Catholics and evangelicals to Latino Christians to black Protestants.
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God-o-Meter wrote a piece for today’s Roll Call on the vindication of Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean’s much-derided 50-State Strategy, which is largely about reaching out to the nation’s more religious voters in the red states:
Years before Barack Obama showed that a liberal Democrat could win in red states like Indiana and Virginia–and seriously compete in North Carolina and Missouri — there was a lone Democrat in Washington, D.C., who was talking up just such a scenario. In fact, from the moment Howard Dean took over the Democratic National Committee in 2005, he set about re-engineering the national party to meet that goal, plowing millions of dollars that had traditionally been used for TV ads into a new program aimed at organizing every part of the country, including its most Republican enclaves, from
the ground up.
Dean called it his 50-state strategy, and much of the Democratic establishment opposed it from the start. As the 2006 midterms approached, then-Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Rahm Emanuel (Ill.) — now in line to be the next White House chief of staff — griped that Dean was starving him of funds in what was shaping up to be a golden opportunity for Democratic gains. “There is no cavalry financially for us,” he told Roll Call.
Even after the Democrats reclaimed Congress in 2006, party elders like James Carville argued that they could have won even more races had it not been for Dean wasting money in the Deep South and other long-held Republican territory.
But Dean persevered with the decidedly unglamorous party-building tactics of the 50-state strategy: providing salaries for three or four new staffers (field organizers, press
aides, fundraisers, technology experts) for nearly every state party and training them to
use the DNC’s newly modernized voter file. “The model for party building was the Republican National Committee,” Dean says. “We copied almost everything and improved on it.”
Three years later, Obama has realized Dean’s vision, winning five states that had
been in the Republican column for the past two election cycles and coming close in a
handful of other such states. And though he’s received almost none so far, Dean deserves a good deal of the credit.
In Indiana, the 50-state strategy gave the state Democratic Party enough money to nearly double the size of its staff by hiring a full-time communications director and three
field directors. That infrastructure not only helped the Democrats defeat three Republican lawmakers in 2006, it also gave the Obama camp a big leg up when it began organizing the state in earnest last spring. “Laying the foundation for what’s happening now all occurred during 2006,” Indiana Democratic Party Chairman Dan Parker said just
before Election Day. “Democrats at the national level didn’t think they could win here
In North Carolina, which at press time was still too close to call, the state Democratic Party used its new DNC windfall to hire regional political directors who developed strategic plans with every county chairman in the state for the first time. Last summer, the Obama campaign began supplementing that network with hundreds of its own workers. In previous years, that grass-roots army would have been starting from scratch just a few months out from Election Day. “Local party leaders are always skeptical whenever the national party comes down in the last minute and says, ‘This is the way it’s going to be,'”state Democratic Party Chairman Jerry Meek said. “The regional political directors have become permanent intermediaries between local leaders and the national
party, so that hostility toward outsiders no longer exists.”
Even before the presidential race, Meek saw the rewards of a beefed-up staff, as Democrats widened their majorities in the state Legislature and picked up sheriff and county commissioner spots in traditionally Republican western North Carolina in 2006.
That has made it easier for the state party to field candidates in other Republican-dominated areas. It helps explain how Democratic state Sen. Kay Hagan was able to
handily defeat North Carolina Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R) this week.
“I didn’t think there was ever any questionthat the 50-state strategy was going to
pay off,” Meek said. “The surprise is that it’s paying off so fast.”
The 50-state strategy did more than fatten state party payrolls. After fixing the DNC’s glitch-plagued voter file, Dean opened it to state parties free of charge and
insisted they learn to use it, sending holdouts to remedial training in Cleveland. “We
got technology that predicted with 85 percent certainty how someone would vote
based on their credit card [purchases],” Dean said. “The Republicans had that for
Dean is reluctant to take credit for Obama’s red-state victories. “The reasons why
we’re doing well in these states has more to do with him than with me,” he said in an interview just before Election Day. “It was fortuitous that we complemented each other …
you have someone running the party with a 50-state strategy and a candidate with the
ability to appeal across a lot of the lines that the Republicans drew in America.”
Indeed, most of Obama’s success in the red states is his own. His grass-roots forces
ultimately dwarfed the DNC organizing effort, and his message was designed to transcend the partisan divide. But that’s just evidence that Dean’s 50-state strategy, once widely derided as a costly diversion, is on its way to becoming party orthodoxy.
Emanuel and Carville declined to comment.
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Amid today’s talk that Barack Obama has narrowed the God Gap, God-o-Meter checked in with Ralph Reed, who spearheaded religious outreach for George W. Bush’s 2000 and 2004 campaigns and who pioneered such outreach for Republicans as executive director of the Christian Coalition.
What surprised you in the exit polls?
The durability–in a difficult election cycle–of the Republicans’ conservative coalition–the overwhelming margin for McCain among evangelicals was about what Bush got four years ago. I don’t think anyone would have anticipated that six or eight months ago. I don’t think that was due entirely to the Palin effect, although she helped.
But the Republican Party has to do some retooling of the party’s grassroots infrastructure, its message and the messengers because we lost some states last night that we haven’t lost in two generations, like Virginia and Indiana.
So one surprise was that evangelicals, who were seen to be despondent over the McCain and the GOP, turned out in droves.
But a truly successful majority party is a multitasking party that tends to its core supporters and reaches out to those who haven’t always felt welcome in their ranks. Obama clearly did that. He never wavered from his core liberal positions… But he reached out to evangelicals, which was a smart thing to do. Now, it didn’t’ work. e tried to emulate Martin Luther King in speaking about the challenges of the poor and left behind in a way that the white majority could hear.
Ronald Reagan did that, reaching out to Catholics and blue collar voters. And four years ago, Bush got 44-percent of the Hispanic vote even while winning 78-percent of evangelicals. So it’s not an either or–you got to do both. The party has to stay true to social conservative but also has to figure out a way to win younger voters and African Americans and Hispanics.
If Obama’s evangelical outreach failed, why was it a smart thing to do?
Because to be competitive in the South and the Midwest heartland of the country whether you win evangelicals votes are not there are a lot of moderate and independent voters that were beginning to have the view that the Democrats are hostile to religious voters. Tgat was hardening. Even if you don’t get the evangelical vote, if you’re going to carry Virginia and Florida and Indiana and Missouri, you can’t be viewed as hostile to religion and the values that people hold. So the Democrats were smart to begin talking about faith and values.
Imitation is the highest form of flattery. If you look at what we did at Christian Coalition and then with the Bush campaign, [the Democrats] tried to beat us by attacking us. And it dint’ work. And after about 15 years of attacking the values message, the Democrats decided to copy it and it was smart.
That’s a welcome mat to Republicans–they shouldn’t attempt to veer way from the values message. You can say a lot about what caused this [McCain's defeat] but it wasn’t caused by the Republican Party’s values message. In two states that McCain lost, Florida and California, McCain lost even as marriage amendments won.
But do you worry that McCain’s loss will be blamed on Sarah Palin and other religious conservatives, who may have scared off independent voters?
I’m not worried at all. If you look at the polling, from the time Palin was selected around August 31 to September 20, when Lehman Brothers cratered and the DOW lost 25 percent and you have a credit crisis and financial panic, MCain was doing fairly well among independents and better among soft Democrats.
The Palin effect was across the board. It energized the base and caused independents and women to give her a second look. The gap began to yawn again around the financial panic. It was after McCain suspended his campaign and went to Washington and was not able to come up with a solution that united his party. But if you talk to people on the ground, the volunteers, the door-to-door knockers [for McCain], they were invisible until McCain selected Palin. I think it’s revisionist history to blame the bottom of the ticket for issues that were always top of the ticket.
There’s been a lot of talk about Palin’s future. How can she have a future as a national candidate if her appeal is strong but limited to the Republican base–largely its religious base?
The strong but limited appeal was based on the ticket. The ticket underperformed among independents and those outside the Republican coalition. The sinking tide lowered all boats. But I don’t think it’s fair to particularize it to her. She has not yet been tested as a candidate in a normal national campaign, where she’d get the opportunity to introduce herself to voters in a primary.
I’d argue that if Obama had not run for president and Hillary Clinton would have won the nomination and then selected Obama as her running mate, with Rev. Wright and Rezko and Ayers and his voting record, he would have never had the opportunity to litigate all that like he did in the primaries.
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