The moderate evangelical vote is slipping away from Barack Obama.
All year, Sen. Obama has worked hard to win evangelical voters. They’ve run campaign ads, distributed literature about being a “committed Christian,” and offered numerous outreach events at the Democratic convention. At stake are about six million voters – moderate evangelicals who voted for George W. Bush last time but were intrigued by Sen. Obama.
“Because of the emotional/social hot-buttons of the traditional evangelical community, things just got very difficult for Sen. Obama,” said Joel Hunter, the Republican pastor who gave the benediction at the Democratic convention. “I am not sure of the shelf-life of ecstasy.”
Earlier in the week, Mark DeMoss, a supporter or John McCain who had earlier predicted Sen. Obama could get as much as 40% of the evangelical vote, revised his estimates downward. Was it “game over?” I asked. “Yes, I think so,” he said.
Several things have battered Sen. Obama’s standing with moderate evangelicals:
1) His poor performance at the Saddleback candidates forum, especially (or perhaps entirely) his comment about it being “above my pay grade” to know when life begins.
2) John McCain’s selection of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, an appealing antiabortion figure and the perceived attacks on her by the media, which led evangelicals to think the “elites” were against them. This sentiment has been skillfully stoked by the Republicans.
3) The Democrats’ decision to run radio ads championing Sen. Obama’s abortion-rights position without discussing his abortion-reduction agenda. “Unless the Obama campaign will stop emphasizing abortion rights and strongly address the major common cause issues with a spirited vision and practical details, the Republicans can continue to scoop up a ton of votes,” says Hunter.
4) The Obama campaign’s failure to combat effectively the charge that he opposed giving protection to infants who survive abortions. It’s now become a standard part of the Republican litany that Sen. Obama supports not only abortion but also infanticide.
5) Quiet concern among evangelical leaders of faith-based groups that Sen. Obama’s faith-based initiative would leave most faith-based groups in the cold because he wouldn’t allow them to hire only from their particular faith.
It’s certainly possible the Obama campaign could turn the situation around. In a sign that Democrats realize just how much damage has been done, the liberal religious group Matthew 25 released a statement accusing Gov. Palin of acting in an un-Christian manner. “In questioning not only Barack Obama’s policies but also his motivations, and mocking his career, Palin went far beyond what could be considered acceptable disagreement and into what looked like open hatred for her political opponents,” the group stated Thursday. “The name of Christ should never be associated with hate or contempt for one’s fellow human being, but last night, in Sarah Palin, we believe it was.”
But counter-attacking won’t be sufficient. Sen. Obama will need to address the core anxieties that have arisen, some because of misleading attacks and others because of his own decisions.
Reprinted from WSJ.com
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