In a sign of the intensifying battle for Catholic voters between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, particularly ahead of next month’s Pennsylvania primary, both candidates have brought Catholic outreach coordinators aboard their campaigns, God-o-Meter has learned.
Just last week, Obama’s campaign hired Mark Linton, a legislative aide working on poverty and other social policy issues in Obama’s Senate office, as its National Catholic Outreach Coordinator. Linton, who had previously worked for Catholic Relief Services, is currently focused almost exclusively on Pennsylvania, where roughly one in three Democratic voters are expected to be Catholic.
“Mark’s job is to help get Senator Obama’s message on health care, the war, and helping American families out to the Catholic grassroots,” said Joshua DuBois, Obama’s National Director of Religious Affairs, in an interview Monday, describing Linton’s role. “Obama is just beginning to introduce himself to Catholics around the country.”
The Obama campaign would not grant a request to interview Linton, saying he’s not an official spokesperson.
The Clinton camp, meanwhile, has brought aboard Eric McFadden, the former field director for Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, a progressive Washington-based Catholic group founded after the 2004 election to combat conservative Catholic advocacy organizations.
McFadden, based in Ohio, joined the Clinton campaign in advance of the Buckeye State primary earlier this month, say sources close to the campaign. Clinton won the make-or-break primary decisively, largely by winning Catholics by 63-percent to 36-percent over Obama, according to exit polls.
Such a strong Catholic offensive during the primary season is new for Democratic presidential candidates. While McFadden worked to organize Catholics on John Kerry’s behalf in 2004, for example, he was never official incorporated into the campaign and wound up frustrated with Kerry’s anemic religious outreach program, according to news accounts from the time.
The Clinton campaign did not respond to requests for an interview with McFadden, but McFadden confirmed that he was with the campaign in a brief phone interview last week.
After her dramatic win among Ohio Catholics, Hillary Clinton is seen to have an advantage among Catholics in Pennsylvania, who are often described as the quintessential Reagan Democrats—working class and culturally conservative. A Gallup poll survey last week showed that Democratic Catholics preferred Clinton to Obama by 56-percent to 37-percent.
But the Obama campaign’s DuBois notes that Obama won the Catholic vote in a few primary states, including Virginia and Louisiana, though by modest margins. Much of Linton’s time in Pennsylvania will be spent organizing forums with Catholic opinion shapers. The campaign wants to host more than the handful of Catholic forums it held in Ohio, where the events featured Catholic Obama surrogates Tim Roemer, a pro-life former Congressman, and Vicki Kennedy, wife of Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy.
“As people get to know Obama more and what he stands for as a former faith-based community organizer and his policies of making sure everybody has health insurance and making sure we reach a responsible end to the war in Iraq, more and more Catholics will come on board,” said DuBois.
“What concerns Catholics is not just the waging of war, but the integrity to make the right decision at the beginning, when it was tough to do,” he continued. “[That’s] when Obama stood up at great personal and political risk and opposed the war; that’s in line with Catholic values and it resonates with Catholic voters.”
DuBois noted that as a community organizer in Chicago, Obama’s work was funded partly by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, a project of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
The Obama campaign has been buoyed by a string of recent endorsements from high profile Catholics, including Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey, Jr.—whose father was famously denied a speaking slot at the 1992 Democratic convention because of his pro-life views—and Douglas Kmiec, a conservative legal scholar and legal counsel to Republican presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.