Barack Obama is not giving up on faith-based voters. While polls seem to show voters stuck in same pattern as 2004, despite the Democrat’s persistent outreach and God talk, the campaign is redoubling its efforts and rejecting suggestions that the Palin Effect has caused them to bail on the religious community.
Obama’s two top lieutenants in faith outreach came out to address dozens of reporters at the annual Religion Newswriters Association conference in Washington late this afternoon to pitch the campaign’s new Faith, Family and Values Tour, which will launch next week with aides and representatives for the campaign (including pro-life Catholic Doug Kmiec) doing grass-roots evangelizing for Obama in community centers (neutral sites–no houses of worship) and homes. The Tour will continue for weeks in most of the key battleground states.
The briefing with Josh DuBois, Obama’s National Director of Religious Affairs, and Shaun Casey, the Wesley Theological Seminary prof and leader of Obama’s evangelical outreach, was notable in itself, in that many of the journalists in the room had been trying for months to reach DuBois and others with no success. The Obama campaign has had an extraordinary grass-roots outreach effort, but has not made communicating that a priority, and that may have begun to sink in. DuBois also wanted to directly refute a report from Time magazine correspondent Amy Sullivan, who told the gathering a day earlier that the Obama campaign was cutting resources to religious outreach because they felt it was not paying dividends. “That is just absolutely not true. It is actually 180 degrees the other way,” DuBois said.
He acknowledged that the faith outreach may not have been as responsive to the media as they could have been, but said they started from scratch after the 2004 debacle, and have gone further than any other Democratic campaign in recent memory to attract religiously-based voters. They also have done far more than the McCain camp in this regard, but of course they have to. (The McCain campaign was invited repeatedly to the RNA gathering, but declined to send a delegate; DuBois and Casey accepted at the last minute.)
On the issue of the campaign’s success, or lack thereof, drawing evangelical voters in particular, DuBois argued that the jury was still out on the numbers, and suggested Obama could still draw some of them, especially among the younger generation. Casey added that while “the plural of anecdote is not data,” his listening tours in West Virginia and other places provided evidence that “something is afoot among young college-age evangelicals” who are attracted to the Obama platform. Will they climb aboard? Check back Nov 5.
What the campaign is clearly NOT doing, however, is wasting a lot of time trying to convince committed Palinistas to defect. DuBois said they are focusing on faith-based voters who have a variety of concerns, “not necessarily on those voters who are going to vote on one or two issues”–notably abortion and/or gay marriage. The single-issue folks “are not necessarily in our universe of persuadables.”
He took pains to say he and the campaign respect those voters, but said Obama and the faith tour was looking chiefly at believers with a broader agenda “because Sen. Obama’s values line up with moderate people of faith in all religious traditions…They line up well on so many key issues” He said Obama’s support among this faith group is increasing, and cited a Quinnipiac poll this week that had Obama up by nine points over McCain among Catholics.
Perhaps the unspoken question is what will happen to the Democrats’ faith outreach if Obama loses. Many in the party clearly have suspicions as to whether all this effort is worth it. Will the party continue to change a polarized religious community, to try to make the party safe for believers again? Or will they throw up their hands and retreat to base camp?