Thursday, November 4, 2004

The Northern Virginia architects of the Republican Party’s wildly successful plan to add a winning clump of Catholic votes to President Bush’s evangelical base in the 2004 election are talking about how they did it.

State Sen. Kenneth Thomas Cuccinelli II, Centreville Republican, said a massive leafletting of cars in church parking lots in 11 battleground states by thousands of volunteers on the Sunday before the election helped sway the vote.

“It totally overwhelmed the Kerry folks,” said Mr. Cuccinelli, adding that he thinks Mr. Bush’s 2.5 percentage-point margin of victory in Ohio was largely achieved by wooing Catholics, who are 25 percent of that state’s electorate.

Mr. Bush carried Ohio Catholics by 10 percentage points — 55 percent to 45 percent — over Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat.

Nationwide, the Catholic vote swung eight points from 2000, when 50 percent backed Al Gore to 47 percent for Mr. Bush. This year, it was 52 percent for the president and 47 percent for Mr. Kerry, a Catholic.

“The change in the Catholic vote was crucial to the margin of victory,” Mr. Cuccinelli said.

“We began recruiting field operatives for this special task. Many of our ultimate recruits had never performed jobs like this before, but they overwhelmingly did a spectacular job.”

The apex of the plan was an Oct. 31 placement of 5 million voter guides on the windshields of cars in parking lots of Catholic churches on the Sunday morning before the election. The teams of volunteers were able to distribute their leaflets in 80 percent of the targeted churches.

“We did 5 million pieces of literature in six hours,” Mr. Cuccinelli said. “Evangelicals were doing the same thing in other states.”

The Catholic voter guides, which were paid for by state Republican committees, “was a straight issue comparison” on where the two candidates differed, Mr. Cuccinelli said. “We had to cut to the chase, hook our audience, convince this was important and worth acting on two days later. And we did it.”

Mr. Bush obliquely referred to the role Catholics and Protestant evangelicals played in his victory when he noted at a press conference yesterday that, “I am glad people of faith voted in this election.”

What helped the Republican National Committee’s Catholic outreach was Sunday’s balmy fall weather nationwide.

“We got lucky on Sunday,” Mr. Cuccinelli said. “God was shining down on us — who knows? All the battleground states on Sunday had weather good enough to flier churches. You put a flier on someone’s windshield in the rain and you’ll lose their vote because you wallpaper their car.”

Mr. Cuccinelli said he and a fellow Northern Virginia Catholic activist, Terry Wear, approached the RNC earlier this year to brainstorm how to “bring relevant Catholic issues to people in the pews without turning them off.”

Mr. Wear had helped the state senator form networks in Catholic parishes that lured large numbers of parishioners into voting for the Republican Party. This strategy helped Mr. Cuccinelli, 36, win two uphill races in 2002 and 2003 in his western Fairfax County district.

“The RNC has not done this before for Catholics and they relied on outsiders to do this for evangelicals,” Mr. Cuccinelli said. The two men persuaded Martin Gillespie, deputy director for Catholic outreach for the RNC, to hire several dozen field operatives to work the Catholic vote in several states.

“They appreciated what Karl Rove said about getting out your base. It’s a party that’s never been known in my lifetime for doing grass-roots efforts,” Mr. Cuccinelli said.

“A lot of people [who] never engaged in politics before really sank their teeth into this. Many people were shy about expressing their views but not about dropping literature on cars.”

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