Thursday, September 2, 2004

NEW YORK — Several hundred Catholic Republicans meeting on the last day of the party convention here were presented with a strategy on how to persuade Catholic friends to switch their support from Democratic presidential nominee and fellow Catholic Sen. John Kerry to President Bush.

Catholics, who make up 27 percent of the electorate, voted 50-to-47 percent for Al Gore over George Bush in 2000, but are shifting toward the right, party officials said. That is because “God-fearing church-attending Catholics,” are up in arms over same-sex “marriage” and abortion, Virginia state Sen. Ken Cuccinelli said.

“We didn’t put these issues into the public arena,” he said, “but by God, we’ll fight them.”

Already, 50,000 Catholics have signed up to be “team leaders” for the party’s get-out-the-vote effort among 65 million Roman Catholics, he added.

Roughly 400 delegates entering a ballroom at the Westin Hotel Times Square were handed a “Catholic position paper on select topics such as adoption tax credits, abortion, the marriage penalty, family planning, homeland security, stem-cell research and others that cast Mr. Kerry as far removed from church principles. Other issues, such as social justice and the war in Iraq, weren’t listed.

Once inside the ballroom, delegates were exhorted to action.

“You’re the choir and we need you to sing,” said Rep. Melissa A. Hart, Pennsylvania Republican.

Mr. Cuccinelli, who represents western Fairfax County, said the party’s national Catholic strategy is modeled after his narrow 2002 victory over Democratic opponent Cathy Belter in a special election and his similarly narrow 2003 victory over Democrat Jim Mitchell.

His campaign targeted potential Catholic voters through telephone lists from groups such as the Legion of Mary and the Knights of Columbus. This is not the same tactic as the Republican Party’s much-criticized efforts to collect church roster lists of entire Protestant congregations, he explained, because the Catholics are only concentrating on smaller groups within a parish.

From that base, the party’s Catholic outreach “is trying to create the world’s biggest phone tree,” he said.

The event was kicked off by the Rev. Frank Pavone of Priests for Life whose opening salvo, “Isn’t it nice to be with Catholics who aren’t afraid to be political? Isn’t it nice to be with a few priests who aren’t afraid to be political?” He also refuted the idea of separation of church and state.

“The same hands lifted to you in prayer,” Father Pavone prayed over the crowd, “are the same hands that pull the lever in the voting booth.”

Speakers’ exhortations to get out the vote were mixed with anecdotes of life in Catholic schools, jokes about Saint Peter and stories about their immigrant parents.

Martin Gillespie, chairman of Catholic outreach for the Republican National Committee, said he grew up “seeing a crucifix on the wall next to a portrait of John F. Kennedy” but that “something has changed folks in the Democratic Party.”

“Today’s Democrats are dominated by NARAL [National Abortion Rights Action League], Planned Parenthood and drug legalizers like George Soros,” he said. “They have told us Catholics we can take our values and our votes and go somewhere else. And let me tell you, we’re glad to do it.”

His brother, RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie, appeared briefly to announce that one in three Catholics who are eligible to vote are not registered.

“Ours is not a caste system of two Americas,” he said, referring to a claim by Democrats that President Bush has created “two Americas:” one for the rich and one for the poor. “It’s one America where upward upward mobility is allowed.”

Citing his Irish immigrant father’s experience at putting down roots in America, “It’s the Catholic Church that gave my father food, clothes and shelter over his head,” he said.

In a Gallup poll taken in late July, Catholics as a whole polled 51-to-45 percent in favor of Mr. Kerry. When split into attendance categories, Catholics who attend church on a weekly basis tended to support Mr. Bush, 52-to-42 percent, those who attend church less often supported Mr. Kerry, 50-to-45 percent, and the largest group — Catholics who seldom or never attend Mass — supported the Massachusetts senator, 59-to-37 percent.

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