Governor Palin Solves John McCain’s Religion Problem

Deal W. Hudson
September 1, 2008

“I’ve gotten more phone calls in the last two days than I received the entire two months I’ve been working for McCain.” J. R. Sanchez, head of McCain’s Catholic outreach in Florida, isn’t the only one experiencing this among religious and social conservatives.

One Catholic activist from San Francisco told me she was offering to organize all the pro-life women in the area for a Palin fundraiser. “This changes everything,” she said, “my phone hasn’t stopped ringing since she was announced.” Neither she nor her friends had much enthusiasm for McCain’s candidacy. They do now.

Sanchez has also heard from Evangelicals in Florida (they didn’t know who else to call) who told him everyone is now energized, from the local pastor to friends and in-laws. Many of them “was going to stay home and not vote.” Up to that point, the only grassroots support Sanchez had found in Florida was among the Vietnamese community, which reveres McCain for his war experience. “Now everyone who helped Bush win in 2004 wants to help, too,” he said.

Another activist, who had been a leader of Bush Catholic outreach in 2004, told me that religious conservative had been expecting one of two things: either a safe ideological choice like Governor Pawlenty (who inspired little enthusiasm) or a left of center selection like Lieberman. “Then out of nowhere McCain taps Gov. Palin… campaign morale shot straight up.”

In early June, I asked whether McCain was losing the Religious Right. He certainly began the campaign on shaky ground with religious conservatives, and they felt ignored. The situation turned bleak when McCain rejected the endorsements of Rev. John Hagee and Rev. Rod Parsley.

Repairs began on June 28 when McCain met with Billy Graham and his son Franklin, at Graham’s home in Montreat, North Carolina. A week later McCain visited the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City – pictures of McCain in front of the sacred image flashed around the world in a matter of hours.

In the space of seven days, McCain had visited arguably the two most powerful icons in the respective Evangelical and Catholic worlds – Billy Graham and Our Lady of Guadalupe. The message had gone out to conservative Christian voters that John McCain cared about their support.

But the gesture, by itself, was not enough. Religious conservatives wanted to be reassured that McCain’s heart was in his pro-life and pro-marriage positions. The August 16 Saddleback event with Rick Warren provided that assurance. When McCain said, “Life begins at conception,” without hesitation or qualification, religious conservatives began reconsidering their level of commitment to the campaign.

Then came the announcement of a pro-life Evangelical Palin as McCain’s running mate. Two months to the day from McCain’s meeting with Billy Graham, the GOP presidential nominee finally solved his problem with the Religious Right.

What the Obama campaign should be concerned about now is not whether Hillary supporters will flock to Palin, but that the foot soldiers of the Republican Party are back on the field.

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