It is no secret that both Obama and McCain are having some trouble on their respective home fronts. For Obama, it’s Clinton supporters who, for whatever reasons, refuse to realign themselves with the presumptive nominee. For McCain, it’s the so-called “evangelical” voters and their seeming lack of enthusiasm. In this post I’ll take a hard look at McCain’s evangelical problem and see how much he might be hurt in November.
For all the talk about McCain’s problems with evangelicals, there’s virtually no way he won’t still pull a majority amongst them. The issue, however, is how large that majority ultimately is, and how active evangelicals and evangelical organizations are in the voter mobilization wars. The LA Times defines the problem well with an example from battleground Ohio:
As the architect of Ohio’s ballot measure against gay marriage, Phil Burress helped draw thousands of conservative voters to the polls in 2004, most of whom also cast ballots to reelect President Bush. So Burress was not surprised when two high-level staffers from John McCain’s campaign dropped by his office, asking for his help this fall.
What surprised Burress was how badly the meeting went. He says he tried but failed to make the McCain team understand how much work remained to overcome the skepticism of social conservatives. Burress ended up cutting off the campaign officials as they spoke. “He doesn’t want to associate with us,” Burress now says of McCain, “and we don’t want to associate with him.”
Joel Rosenberg at the National Review crunched some numbers, and they came out looking bad for the McCain camp.
If the general election were held today, McCain would lose the Christian vote to the Democratic nominee — 36 percent to 45 percent — with 19 percent of Christian voters currently undecided.
Among Protestants, McCain pulls even with the Democrats at 40 percent. But the Democrats have a whopping 32-point lead over McCain among Catholics.
Among white evangelical Protestants, McCain is doing better (51 percent to 28 percent), but clearly they have not rallied behind him at this point.
President Bush pulled 78% of white evangelical Protestants in 2004, highlighting the drop in evangelical zeal. Rasmussen has McCain at 58%. For the time being, it appears that most evangelicals who aren’t on the McCain bandwagon are straddling the fence. There hasn’t been a corresponding rise in evangelical support for Obama, although he is doing much better amongst mainline faiths. A huge worry for McCain has to be Bob Barr, the Libertarian candidate. If undecided evangelicals break for a third party, or don’t vote at all, Nov. 4th is going to be a bad day for John McCain.
Just as notable is McCain’s seeming lack of interest in dealing with this problem. David Limbaugh provides an excellent example:
After making some overtures to the Christian right this time around, McCain has reverted to form by choosing to make conspicuous public breaks with pastors John Hagee and Rod Parsley. And a news report yesterday stated McCain even declined to meet with the Rev. Billy Graham, but later in the day, his campaign claimed that it has been working directly with the Rev. Franklin Graham’s office to facilitate a meeting between the beloved evangelist and the GOP candidate.
McCain did eventually have that sit down with the Grahams, but came away conspicuously lacking an endorsement. Obama, in the meantime, is flailing around all over the place trying to court disenchanted evangelical voters. He’s even out-Bushing Bush with his faith-based initiative proposal.
It’s still early, certainly too early to predict exactly how these pieces are going to come together. For the time being, it looks like McCain’s in some hot water with evangelical voters. As a result, it’s going to take a great showing among independents for McCain to have a shot at victory. My verdict: McCain’s in trouble. While he’ll still take the bulk of evangelical voters, it will likely not be enough to overcome Obama’s strength in the center. Obama’s continuing efforts to woo Christian voters make this an even tougher challenge for McCain.
For example, Obama’s probably got these votes in the bag: