It's natural for Democrats to reach out to Catholic voters - they are found close at hand in urban centers and among the rank and file of our nation's labor unions. The Democratic Party's message to Catholics is dependably amplified by the media, friendly clergy and academics long aligned with the political left. The only political outreach to Catholics independent of the party machinery comes through fake Catholic groups funded by labor unions and George Soros-type donors.
The Ronald Reagan years taught Republicans the importance of reaching out to Catholics, but most GOP candidates and their operatives still need to be reminded. That Mass-attending Catholics are now naturally disposed toward the Republican Party is a fact that has never been fully embraced. John McCain's 2008 campaign made a shallow attempt to lure the Catholic voters who had provided the winning margins for Republican presidential candidates in 1980, 1988, 2000 and 2004.
Who are Catholic voters? They attend Mass regularly; are patriotic and respect the military; believe in the exceptional character of the destiny of the United States; include the growing Latino community in our country and a strong immigrant heritage; care about the strength of our nation, our families and especially the future for our children; are socially conservative, with the understanding that a bad economy hurts the fabric of the family; understand that government at some level should maintain a safety net but within the limits of its resources; and do not like to be sermonized.
Catholic voters, however, will not be dependable Republicans or form a reliable voting bloc. Their votes will have to be sought and won with every election cycle. As swing voters, Catholics will be a reminder to the GOP that social issues cannot be put aside regardless of the economy or the challenges of national security. These voters, alarmed at the growth of federal government, also will remind Republicans that policies about health care, poverty and education should be guided by the Catholic principle of the smallest, localized entity being given the opportunity to provide services. This is referred to as "subsidiarity" in Catholic social teaching.
Catholics want to hear about a candidate's commitment to life, marriage and fiscal responsibility but will respond positively when those things are linked with concern about those who are disadvantaged, suffering and vulnerable and with a plan to help them.
Because Catholic voters will never be absorbed into the GOP, they need their own ground game. Some Catholic leaders are effectively engaging the Catholic left using the journalistic means at their disposal - op-ed columns, blogs and videos. But winning the war of ideas is only part of an effective political strategy. The Catholic left has a ground game; it's called the Democratic Party. Catholics who care about life issues, about subsidiarity, about individual and religious freedom, need their own program of supporting candidates financially through voter registration, voter ID, voter education and get-out-the-vote efforts.
Merely speaking the truth will not win the day. Many Catholics who care passionately about abortion and marriage assume it's enough to make the right arguments. What they don't understand is that the purpose of a Catholic ground game is to get those arguments to the voters most likely to be receptive. Once identified, that voter should be further educated against the deceptions coming from the Catholic left, such as, "Obama believes in abortion reduction." Finally, none of this matters if those voters don't cast their votes on Election Day, which is why so much time and money is spent on a 72-hour get-out-the-vote effort.
More than 67 million Catholics are registered in parishes across the United States, with approximately 20 million of those attending Mass regularly. Nationwide, Catholics make up 21 percent of the population but 27 percent of the electorate. In each of the battleground states being discussed in political circles, Catholics continue to account for a higher percentage of the electorate than their overall percentage of the population. These numbers make Catholics the kind of swing voters who win elections. They also make Catholics a voter group that can influence the position of candidates on the key issues of life and marriage. It will take a robust Catholic outreach to elect a pro-life, pro-family leader for our nation in 2012.
Deal W. Hudson, president of Catholic Advocate, was chairman of RNC Catholic Outreach and author of "Onward Christian Soldiers: The Growing Political Power of Catholics and Evangelicals in the United States" (Threshold). Matt Smith, vice president of Catholic Advocate, was associate director of the White House Office of Public Liaison, responsible for Catholic outreach under George W. Bush.
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