Focus on moral values tipped vote for Bush

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Moral values topped the list of issues voters were most concerned about when they went to the polls on Election Day, with Catholics, evangelicals, blacks and Hispanics joining an ad hoc coalition that re-elected President Bush by 3.5 million votes.

A national exit poll of 13,531 voters found 22 percent cited moral values as the “most important issue,” with the economy and jobs second at 20 percent and terrorism at 19 percent, according to a joint survey by Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International. Iraq came in fourth at 15 percent.

Moral issues were highlighted by ballot measures in 11 states to effectively prohibit same-sex “marriage.” Voters approved all the measures by solid majorities, ranging from 57 percent in Oregon to 86 percent in Mississippi — and 62 percent in the key state of Ohio.

“The overwhelming support that Americans gave to marriage and family issues and the candidates who supported them showed that this is the ‘year of the values voter,’” said Gary Bauer, president of American Values and a former presidential candidate.

“For too long, liberal political pundits have been telling us that issues like marriage and life divide us as a people. But it’s clear that while those issues may be controversial, they are not divisive because people reach across such boundaries as party, economic status and ethnic group to join together to support and protect the American family,” Mr. Bauer said.

For months on the campaign trail, the president drew the most enthusiastic applause from supporters when he talked about moral values: The “culture of life,” a phrase borrowed from Pope John Paul II; the sanctity of marriage; the importance of family; and especially his signing of the partial-birth-abortion ban.

At each stop, he delivered a variation of the lines he said in Dallas during his final campaign stop on Monday: “Over the next four years, I’ll continue to stand for the values that are important to our nation. I stand for marriage and family, which are the foundations of our society. I stand for a culture of life in which every person matters and every being counts,” the president said.

Mr. Bush also highlighted the perception in Middle America that Democrats represent the values of the Hollywood elite by referring to a July fund-raiser in New York City, where celebrities who called the president a “liar” and a “thug” were praised by Sen. John Kerry as “the heart and soul of our country.”

“Most of our families don’t look to Hollywood as a source of values,” Mr. Bush told audiences during his final campaign swing.

The Christian Defense Coalition yesterday pointed to a strong evangelical and pro-life voter turnout as a key to the president’s victory.

“It is clear one of the major factors in this presidential race was the strong turnout of the faith and pro-life communities,” said the Rev. Patrick Mahoney, director of the coalition. “Moral issues played a major role across the country as witnessed by the fact that all 11 traditional-marriage voter initiatives passed,” he said, referring to homosexual “marriage” bans in states from the Deep South to North Dakota.

A surprisingly strong bloc of Catholics helped Mr. Bush defeat the first Catholic presidential candidate since John F. Kennedy. According to exit polls, Catholics were 27 percent of the electorate and 51 percent went for the Methodist president — a four percentage point increase in Mr. Bush’s Catholic support compared with 2000. The most observant Catholics — those who attend church weekly — supported the president 55 percent to 44 percent.

Roman Catholic leaders and lay activists had criticized Mr. Kerry for his pro-choice stance and his vote against the partial-birth-abortion ban.

On Sunday, Northern Virginia Catholics received in their church bulletins an insert from Arlington Bishop Paul Loverde that declared: “No Catholic can claim to be a faithful member of the Church while advocating for, or actively supporting, direct attacks on innocent human life.”

Austin Ruse, president of the Culture of Life Foundation and a Roman Catholic, called Mr. Kerry “a gift of God to the Catholic Church in 2004.”

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