Democratic presidential nominee Joseph R. Biden, branded a fake Catholic at the Republican National Convention, has launched an all-out blitz to engage faith-based voters — many of whom have shown unfailing loyalty to President Trump.
The campaign’s offensive aims to prove that Mr. Biden is not “against God,” as Mr. Trump put it this month.
Douglas Emhoff, the husband of Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala D. Harris, helped kick off what the campaign billed as a “Believers for Biden” push this weekend designed to engage Florida’s Jewish, Muslim and Christian communities.
“When it comes to our Jewish community, Kamala and Joe have never wavered in their support,” said Mr. Emhoff, who is Jewish.
Doug Pagitt, executive director of the group Vote Common Good, said he thinks there is a decent number of White evangelical and Catholic “faith” voters who are looking for an exit off the Trump train.
“We’re not going to move 100% of them; we’re not going to move 50% of them,” Mr. Pagitt said. “But we do really believe that 5-15% is available. There is so much passion from so many faith leaders to speak out for the first time ever. I think that’s a real indicator [of] what’s happening inside the faith communities.”
Mr. Biden, who makes frequent references to his Catholic faith, would be the second Catholic president. In 1960, some voters feared John F. Kennedy would effectively take his marching orders from the Vatican.
Former Notre Dame Football Coach Lou Holtz said at the RNC that people of faith will have trouble supporting someone whose stance on abortion runs counter to Christian values.
“The Biden-Harris ticket is the most radically pro-abortion campaign in history,” Mr. Holtz said. “They and other politicians are ‘Catholics in name only’ and abandon innocent lives.”
Mr. Biden said that is ridiculous.
“I never miss Mass. It’s part of who I am,” he said on MSNBC. “My private beliefs relative to how I would deal with the church doctrine is different than my imposing that doctrine on every other person in the world.”
Notre Dame, a Catholic university, tried to distance itself from Mr. Holtz’s remarks.
Exit polling suggested that Mr. Trump carried a bare majority of the Catholic vote over Democratic rival Hillary Clinton in 2016.
Mr. Trump carried roughly 80% of the evangelical vote. Despite some cracks, there are few signs of an exodus of evangelicals from Mr. Trump.
“The Republican Party platform mentions God 15 times,” Family Research Council President Tony Perkins said recently as part of his group’s “Pray, Vote, Stand” campaign, although the Republican Party did not approve a new platform this year. “By contrast, the Democratic platform has the word God one time, as a descriptor: ‘God-given potential.’”
The president has generally championed pro-life and religious liberty policies and has received high marks from faith-minded conservatives for his judicial picks, including Supreme Court Justices Neil M. Gorsuch and Brett M. Kavanaugh.
Still, top Democrats such as Sen. Christopher A. Coons of Delaware, a Biden ally, and former 2020 presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg have tried to make the case that their party shouldn’t be afraid to expound on issues of faith.
“His faith is strong, and it’s personal and private,” Mr. Coons said of Mr. Biden in his Democratic National Convention address. “For Joe, faith isn’t a prop or a political tool.”
At a recent campaign event geared toward Jewish voters, Rep. Ted Deutch of Florida introduced Mr. Emhoff as the “next Jewish mensch.”
“Our Jewish engagement team is fighting for every Jewish vote in every swing state,” Mr. Deutch said.
Mrs. Clinton carried about 70% of the Jewish vote in 2016, according to exit polling, but Mr. Trump has made overtures by emphasizing his strong relationship with Israel and moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
The Trump administration also brokered the recent agreement to normalize relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates.
Tony Blinken, a foreign policy adviser for the Biden campaign, said Mr. Trump ceded authority on issues important for Jewish voters with his response to the white supremacist march in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017.
“You know what’s not good for the Jewish people? Condoning the worst acts of anti-Semitism, as President Trump did in Charlottesville,” Mr. Blinken said. “That’s no myth, and again, that is disqualifying.”
Some Democrats are skeptical that the party can make a dent among the broader demographic of religious-minded voters.
“I think it’s important to make some kind of effort, but honestly you go where the ducks are in campaigns, and the ducks aren’t there for Biden-Harris,” said party strategist Brad Bannon. “I think the opportunities for Democrats among faith-based voters are pretty slim.”
Mr. Trump said at a stop in Ohio this month that Democrats like Mr. Biden want to “hurt God.”
“He’s following the radical left agenda: take away your guns, destroy your Second Amendment, no religion, no anything,” the president said. “Hurt the Bible, hurt God. He’s against God, he’s against guns, he’s against energy.”
Mr. Pagitt said that statement is absurd coming from Mr. Trump, who used the Bible “literally as a prop” during his march in front of St. John’s Church near the White House in June.
“When you’re taking swings at other people’s quality of their faith … that you’re having to do that in late August really shows you’re in trouble,” he said. “They misunderstand faith voters. The Trump administration has never gotten them.”
A Pew poll released last month found that 72% of White evangelical Protestants said they approve of the way the president his handling his job, a 6-point drop from April.
“I promise you this: Trump wouldn’t be spending money on organizing evangelicals and Catholics for Trump if he thought he had them in the bag,” Mr. Pagitt said.
• David Sherfinski can be reached at email@example.com.
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