- The Washington Times - Friday, September 12, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The 47 million Catholics in America consist of the largest single faith group in the nation. Moreover, 41 percent are independents and Catholics are one-quarter of all registered voters. It is no wonder that both candidates are paying special attention to them.

Catholics have a track record of supporting the winner of the popular vote in in the last nine presidential elections. The first Catholic president in American history, John F. Kennedy, won the backing of 78 percent of Catholics. The majority of Catholics also voted for Lyndon Johnson in 1964. They then favored Richard Nixon in 1972. They swung back to the Democrats in 1976 by voting for Jimmy Carter. Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush captured the Catholic vote for three successive elections. Catholics then opted for Democratic candidates for three consecutive elections, favoring Bill Clinton and Al Gore. In 2004, George Bush won the Catholic vote once again.

In 2008, Barack Obama chose Sen. Joseph Biden partly because his Catholic faith was considered potentially useful in wooing the many white, blue-collar voters — who also are Catholic — and who tended to favor Hillary Clinton during the Democratic primaries and caucuses. When Mr. Obama announced his running mate, he mentioned Mr. Biden’s faith twice. Democrats hope to appeal to those Catholics who are most concerned with ending the war, oppose the death penalty and care about social justice.

Mr. McCain chose Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin in part because she is a pro-life evangelical. Catholics who are fervent in their opposition to abortion and who oppose gay marriage tend to vote Republican. As a result of Mrs. Palin, they are energized and Mr. McCain is gaining ground among young, conservative Catholics.

The latest polls indicate that Mr. Obama and Mr. McCain are currently in a dead heat among white, non-Hispanic Catholics. Hispanic Catholics tend to favor Democrats by wide margins: They preferred Mr. Gore in 2000, 65 percent to 33 percent; and they favored Mr. Kerry in 2004, 58 percent to 39 percent. Hispanic Catholics tilt Democratic in 2008 also. Yet half of all Hispanics are in their twenties and they are fervent in their opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage. Will this make a difference on Election Day?

In a nutshell: Now that the majority of white evangelicals are more firmly ensconced in their support for the Republicans and the majority of black evangelicals support the Democrats, the next major religious denomination that will be scrutinized will be Catholics. Since 1960, the selection of U.S. presidents has depended in large measure on the ballots cast by Catholic voters.

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