Hold onto your hymnals. The Obama campaign is launching its latest offensive to take religious voters away from the Republicans. It is called the Joshua Generation Project, and it will use the internet, parties, concerts, and fliers to reach out to the church crowd. And with John McCain already treading water with conservative religious types, this could get bumpy.
The power of conservative Christian voters has been so omnipresent (shall we say?) that it has played a critical role in every Republican presidential victory since Ronald Reagan. It is practically a GOP commandment: Thou shalt not win with moderate voters alone.
But for several months now Dems have been making noise about challenging the Repubs claim on this voting block. Why do you think Clinton and Obama were so happy to sit down for those discussions of their faith on TV? The Dems realized that for too long they have retreated from any public admission of their own faith and have essentially given that part of the political battlefield to the opposing party.
No more. Now they have a presumptive nominee who actually likes talking about his faith in public, looks comfortable doing it, and they want to make it clear that they have as much in common with church-going folks as the Republicans do.
They know they can't win with everyone. Obama supports abortion rights, and we all remember the screaming headlines some weeks ago about his former pastor. He stands little chance of making headway with older, seriously conservative Christians.
So he is taking aim at the younger ones; people who oppose the war, think America should do more about world poverty and hunger... that sort of thing. These are folks who might find religion in Obama's positions, and be willing to overlook their differences with him, especially if they can't find a spiritual link to John McCain.
Which, of course, brings up the most glaring challenge for John McCain when it comes to faith: He just doesn't talk about it much. Put aside, for a moment, the attacks he made on some evangelical leaders years ago. Just look at the candidate today. Yes, he tried to team up with some conservative Christians to rally the pews, but that did not go well. Some of their controversial sermons showed up on YouTube, the media went bananas, and pretty soon McCain was seeking an annulment of his relationship with them.
Yes, he tells a great story about how his belief sustained him while he was a prisoner of war. But most of the time, McCain seems reluctant to bring up God, or talk about church, or profess his belief in a grand way. In other words, he sounds a lot like the Democrats did in a lot of losing years.
This is hardly a done deal. Obama may get very little for his outreach. McCain may reap an unexpected windfall of religious support. Who knows?
Faith matters to Americans, but sometimes it matters in unexpected ways.
This we know, however: Some conservatives are now almost screaming for McCain to get much more serious about connecting with church-goers. Because Obama is working the pews, and looking for converts.
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