obamaclinton.jpgThis weekend’s brouhaha over Barack Obama’s comments on what plagues small town Americans threatens to undo much of the candidate’s groundbreaking work as a Democratic candidate reaching out the religious voters because it raises questions about how he really feels about religion and religious people, long Democrats’ Achilles’ heel among faith voters. Though John Kerry was a former altar boy who took his Catholic faith seriously enough to seek to get his first marriage annulled after a divorce, the GOP and conservative elements of the Catholic church succeeded in raising sufficient doubts about Kerry’s Catholic commitment that the candidate wound up losing the Catholic vote. (JFK, the previous Catholic nominee for president, took 80-plus percent of Catholic voters).
And it’s Catholics, particularly in Pennsylvania, who are the voters among whom Obama’s comments can do the most damage, at the precise moment when Obama has redoubled Catholic outreach. For Hillary Clinton, who commands a significant lead among Catholic voters and who is looking to Pennsylvania’s Catholics–largely culturally conservative Reagan Democrats–to give her a big victory in the April 22 primary, Obama’s remarks are a gift. She’s responded forcefully already, but look to her performance in tonight’s faith forum in Pennsylvania for even more criticism as she tries to frame news coverage in the final week before the primary.
It’s important to note that the venue in which Obama delivered his remarks–a private fundraiser in San Francisco–matters a lot. Here’s what he said:
“You go into these small towns in Pennsylvania and, like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing’s replaced them. And it’s not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”
Because it was a behind-closed-doors event, the remarks will come across to many religious voters as reflective of Obama’s true feelings toward religious voters, casting doubt on all his public comments about being a genuine believer who has deep respect for the faithful.


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