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The race for evangelical voters
Can Obama lure religious voters away from McCain?
W

hat happened
Democrat Barack Obama said he would expand the role of faith-based social programs in the federal government, in his latest appeal to evangelical Christian and religious voters, who have voted heavily Republican recently. (Reuters) McCain met with evangelical icon Billy Graham and his son, Franklin, in North Carolina over the weekend, in a push to shore up support among skeptical evangelical and socially conservative voters. (Los Angeles Times)

What the commentators said
With voters unhappy and looking for a change, said Michael Gerson in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Obama really “might achieve a historic political breakthrough with religious voters.” The only thing standing in his way is abortion, which is part of the reason the pro-life McCain is beating Obama among evangelicals, three to one.

McCain will have to do better than that to win, said Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Domenico Montanaro in MSNBC’s First Read blog. Bush won evangelicals, 78 percent to 21 percent in 2004. If Obama holds McCain below 78 percent, or prompts evangelicals to stay home, McCain’s in trouble. Obama’s evangelical inroads are “still very speculative,” but he can talk about his "relationship with Jesus effectively,” and that was also true about the last two Democrats to win the White House.

Maybe Obama really thinks he can “erode the GOP’s traditional dominance” among evangelicals, said Noam Scheiber in The New Republic’s The Stump blog. But his courting of them could also be a “ricochet pander”—an effort to appeal to “moderate, downscale whites who aren’t evangelicals” but would find evangelical support reassuring, especially in the light of the false rumors that Obama is a secret Muslim.

“Both presidential candidates are over-pastored” for my taste, said Richard Cohen in The Washington Post. But McCain’s pastors are particularly intolerant and “small-minded.” Franklin Graham is just the latest right-wing minister McCain approached “like a spiritual beggar” in his “futile effort to convince faith-voters that he is one of them.” He should be himself, and the old McCain would have skipped the Graham meeting.

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