“McCain’s Opportunity, Obama’s Challenge”

Deal W. Hudson
July 28, 2008

In May 2007, Benedict XVI flew to meet with the bishops of Mexico, Central America, and South America. While on the plane, the pope answered a question from a reporter about the Mexican bishops who were threatening to withhold the Eucharist from Catholic politicians who voted in favor of legalizing abortion.

The Holy Father expressed his support for the Mexican bishops, saying: “It’s nothing new, it’s normal, it wasn’t arbitrary. It is what is foreseen by the church’s doctrine.” The pope’s spokesman later clarified his comment saying, “Legislative action in favor of abortion is incompatible with participation in the Eucharist.”

His answer got the attention of candidates in the U.S. presidential primary – especially Rudy Giuliani, who was quick to say, “I do not get in debates with the pope. It’s not a good idea. Issues like that are between me and my confessor.”

Giuliani had been riding high in the spring of 2007, and big GOP money was moving his way. At the same time, the McCain campaign was about to fall apart. But that wouldn’t last; the GOP wasn’t going to nominate someone on the wrong side of the abortion and marriage debate.

McCain eventually earned the GOP nomination and watched Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama slug it out for three months until Clinton conceded. But McCain spent that time raising money, not consolidating his support among religious conservatives. The controversy over Rev. John Hagee’s Hitler comments only made McCain’s relationship with the Christian grassroots even more tenuous.

A month later, he met with Billy Graham and his son Franklin. Ninety evangelical leaders met privately in Denver a week later to discuss providing more support to McCain. The meeting was convened by a former Huckabee supporter, Matt Staver, who explained,” Our shared core values compel us to unite and choose the presidential candidate that best advances those values.”

Two weeks after the Denver meeting, on a July 21 radio show, Dr. James Dobson surprised everyone by announcing, “I never thought I would hear myself saying this.… While I am not endorsing Senator John McCain, the possibility is there that I might.”

Dobson is, in some ways, the major player of the Religious Right, but his volatility in the 2008 primary – particularly his third-party threat – has diminished his influence and set the scene for the cool reception of the McCain nomination.

A more important opportunity for McCain to solidify religious conservatives is his upcoming appearance at Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, on August 16. Warren, who is slowly assuming the mantle of leadership among Christian voters, will hold a one-hour conversation with each of the candidates.

Warren is known for his attention to issues like HIV/AIDS in Rwanda and climate change, but he is also solidly pro-life and opposed to gay marriage. If Warren questions each candidate as he surely will, the differences between the two will be very apparent.

The conversation with Warren will force the reluctant McCain to talk about his faith, while also giving him an opportunity to reiterate his support of unborn life and marriage between a man and woman. (It’s surprising how many voters are not aware of McCain’s positions on these issues.)

Voters are also not fully aware of Obama’s abortion record. In that way, he is in roughly the same position as Giuliani in the spring of 2007. GOP voters had not yet learned that “America’s Mayor,” despite his Italian-Catholic name and credentials, did not uphold the teaching of the Church on protecting unborn life.

Then the unforeseen happened – Benedict XVI answered a question from reporters – and Giuliani started getting peppered with questions about his abortion stance. His downward slide began there.

Obama has not had his moment yet, and he may not. It’s difficult to predict how many votes he’ll lose when his position on abortion becomes more widely known. He’s not running among the GOP faithful as Giuliani did in the primary, so he can probably absorb the loss. But when you add his opposition to the ban on same-sex marriage in California, he might face increased resistance in battleground states like Florida, Ohio, Michigan, and Virginia.

August 16 will be a big day for both Obama and McCain. Whatever happens, American voters will know more about the candidates’ positions on social issues important to religious conservatives. The fallout could be decisive in November.

By Deal Hudson

Deal W. Hudson was born November 20, 1949 in Denver, CO, to Emmie and Jack Hudson, both native Texans. Dr. Hudson had an older sister Ruth, and eventually, a younger sister, Elizabeth. Emmie Hudson, Ruth Hudson and Elizabeth Hudson now live in Houston, TX; Jack Hudson passed away some years ago. The late Jack Hudson was a captain for Braniff Airlines in Denver at the time of Dr. Hudson’s birth. Later the family moved to Kansas City when his father joined the Federal Aviation Agency. From Kansas City, the Hudson family moved to Minneapolis, then to Massapequa, NY, and finally to Alexandria, VA, where they first occupied a home overlooking the Potomac River adjacent to the Mount Vernon estate. After a year, the family moved to a home on Tarpon Lane a few houses up the street from the Yacht Haven boat docks. Dr. Hudson attended Mt. Vernon Elementary School from grades 4 to 6 and has a special gratitude for the teaching of Mr. Hoppe who first told him was a ‘smart lad.’ Having moved with his family to Fort Worth, TX in 1960, Dr. Hudson attended William Monnig Junior High and Arlington Heights HS. In high school, Dr. Hudson was captain of the golf team, editor of the literary magazine (Guerdon), and performed the role of Peter in the ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ during his senior year. Dr. Hudson graduated cum laude with a major in philosophy from the University of Texas-Austin in 1971 where his undergraduate advisor was Prof. John Silber. His teachers at the University of Texas included Prof. Louis Mackey and Prof. Larry Caroline. Dr. Hudson minored in both classics and English literature. Dr. Hudson lived in Atlanta from 1974-1989, where he attended Emory University, receiving a Phd from the Graduate Institute for the LIberal Arts. He also taught philosophy at Mercer University in Atlanta from 1980-89. In 1989 Dr. Hudson and his family left Atlanta when he was hired to teach philosophy at Fordham University in the Bronx. Dr. Hudson taught at Fordham, and also part-time at New York University, from 1989 to 1994. Dr. Hudson first came to Atlanta in after graduation from Princeton Theological Seminary (PTS) with an M.Div. While at PTS, Dr. Hudson managed the Baptist Student Union at Princeton University and became its first director. Dr. Hudson also was licensed at a minister in the Southern Baptist Convention at Madison Baptist Church in Madison, NJ. Dr. Hudson’s primary area of study at PTS was the history of Christian doctrine which he pursued with Dr. Karlfried Froelich. In 1984 Dr. Hudson was received in the Catholic Church by Msgr. Richard Lopez, with the special permission of Archbishop Thomas A. Donnellan, at the chapel of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Cancer Home in Atlanta. Dr. Hudson has been married twenty-five years to Theresa Carver Hudson and they have two children, Hannah Clare, 23, and Cyprian Joseph (Chip), 15, adopted from Romania when he was three years old. The Hudson family has lived in Fairfax, VA for more than fifteen years, after having lived five years in Bronxville, NY and a year in Atlanta, GA, where Theresa and Deal were married.

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