Churchgoing Catholics returning to GOP fold
Gov. Sarah Palin has outsized impact on an important bloc in key battleground states.
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Catholics who attend mass every week, as does Siedenburg, are usually passionate foes of abortion. Regardless of Obama’s willingness to talk about a moral dimension to abortion, these voters struggle with his record in support of abortion rights, including a controversial vote in Illinois against the so-called born-alive infants bill. (The legislation sought to define every infant born alive – including one who survived an abortion procedure – as a human in the eyes of the law.)Skip to next paragraph
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A kinship with Sarah Palin
Yet a slim majority of Catholics overall actually favor abortion rights.
One of those is Cynthia Feyma. Until recently she was considering sitting out this presidential election. But last weekend she joined the crowd of thousands in Carson City chanting “Sarah! Sarah! Sarah!”
Ms. Feyma, who says she “occasionally” attends mass, feels a kinship with Palin’s values. (Palin, baptized a Catholic as an infant, now attends a nondenominational Bible church.) For Feyma, that means patriotism and personal character more than anything related to Catholic social teaching. “They have American values: What’s right for the US is No. 1,” she says of the GOP ticket. “She’s honest, down-to-earth, not a feminist.” As for fellow Catholic Joseph Biden, the Democrats’ vice presidential pick? Feyma says he’s not independent enough.
The Rev. Thomas Reese, a political scientist at Georgetown University, explains why Palin may be connecting with certain Catholic voters. “Catholic social teaching will win you about three votes, all of them in Boston,” he says. “Anyone for whom ideas matter made up their mind four years ago. For the swing voters, you have to connect to them ... on the gut level.”
Indeed, Feyma and other newly energized voters at the rally didn’t cite Palin’s stance on issues, but rather her persona as an outsider and – as seen by the many “Rosie the Riveter” T-shirts – a can-do woman.
Identifying with a Republican leader may be new for some Catholic women.
“The gender gap persisted not because women chose the Democratic Party. But men moved to the Republican Party, and women essentially stayed,” says Lara Brown, a political scientist at Villanova University. “Palin gives these women who are culturally conservative an opportunity to say, ‘Wow, someone represents me.’ ”
Senator Biden has the ability to appeal on identity, too, argues Father Reese. “Biden is a real Catholic from a working-class background who’s comfortable talking to high-school-educated people. This is the most important swing vote.”
While Obama says “disingenuous” a lot, Biden will say “malarkey.” Obama can do more to connect with Catholics, Reese says, by pointing out that he was taught by nuns in Indonesia and that some of his community organizing back in Chicago was funded by Catholic groups.