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God-O-Meter

catholic cathedral.jpgThe New York Times reports that one of the strongest indicators that Barack Obama and the Democratic National Committee is thinking hard about winning back Catholics is they’re consideration of pro-life Sen. Bob Casey, Jr for a speaking slot at this month’s convention. The Pennsylvania senator’s father, then-Keystone State Gov. Bob Casey, was famously denied a speaking role at the 1992 Democratic National Convention because his pro-life views departed from the party orthodoxy (for more on this, check out God-o-Meter’s recent interview with Senator Casey).
The Times on the possibility of Casey, Jr. speaking at the Denver convention:

The Obama campaign is being close-mouthed about its convention plans and would not confirm whether Mr. Casey would be given a prime-time speaking slot. Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, said that the call was Mr. Obama’s, but that a prominent speaking role for Mr. Casey would assist in the candidate’s efforts to woo Roman Catholic voters.
Mr. Casey, who endorsed Mr. Obama early and campaigned extensively for him in Pennsylvania, said there was no formal offer yet from Mr. Obama or the party. But, he said, “I think we’ll get something worked out.”

To be sure, Casey, Jr. does not cut the same national figure that his father did. But the possibility of a Casey convention appearance is not happening in isolation. It’s part of a much broader effort within the Obama and Casey campaigns to reach out to Catholic voters. It’s important to note, however, that that offensive is only party based on moderating the Democratic Party’s rigid pro-choice position.
The broader thinking behind the Democratic campaign is that Catholics are more likely to vote for Obama because they’re economically distressed–so long as they’re not turned off by a perception that he’s antagonistic toward the Catholic Church or oblivious to the moral dimension on the abortion issue.
How much are Catholics swayed by economic considerations?
Look at the chart accompanying today’s New York Times story, which calls the very premise of the story–that Catholic voters are driven largely by the abortion issue–into question. The chart shows that, since 1980, the only Democratic presidential candidate to win Catholic majority backing was Bill Clinton. And they supported him over his Republican opponents in 1992 and 1996–even though he was the Democratic Party standard bearer under whom Bob Casey was denied a convention speaking role.
What does that tell you? That Catholics value economics. A lot. And that they need to be comfortable with a candidate’s cultural values–the Southern Baptist Clinton, after all, campaigned as a cultural moderate who called for abortion to be “safe, legal, and rare”–but that it’s probably not the main impetus for their vote. They need to be comfortable with the candidate’s values–not enamored of them.


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