Jewish World Review Nov. 3, 2000 / 5 Mar-Cheshvan 5761
Both approaches -- in shorthand, fighting poverty and opposing abortion -- have deep roots in Catholic teaching, including recent papal encyclicals.
Which of the two will prevail in this election is anybody's guess, but Republicans seem to be making a more targeted effort, and aides to Texas Gov. George W. Bush claim it is working.
As part of a massive outreach effort, the Republican National Committee's Catholic task force has accumulated the names of 1.5 million "religiously active" Catholics in key states and is about to send them a second mailing emphasizing the candidates' differences on "values," abortion, gay rights and aid to parochial schools.
Last week, both Vice President Al Gore and his running mate, Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.), visited Catholic colleges -- with Lieberman definitely leaning toward a social renewal theme at Notre Dame -- but the approach of the Democratic National Committee is not to target Catholics specifically.
"We think Catholics are interested in what everybody else is interested in -- Social Security, Medicare, education, the environment," said DNC spokeswoman Jenny Backus. "We don't target Catholics specifically. We do target ethnic groups -- Polish Americans, Latinos and so on."
Polling on the Catholic vote is confusing. A Fox News-Opinion Dynamics poll found it split, 45 percent for Gore and 44 percent for Bush. The Pew Research Center reported that among white Catholics, Gore led 44 to 42 in early October and 49 to 38 percent in mid-October.
However, the Voter.com Battleground survey, which the Bush campaign and the RNC put their faith in, shows Bush leading among white Catholics by 14 points.
The co-director of that survey, Republican Ed Geoas, said Bush's lead among white Catholics contributes to the fact that Gore and Bush are tied among non-union spouses of union members. Union members favor Gore by 22 points.
Published exit polls from past elections have not distinguished among Catholics by each presidential race, but show that Catholics -- who make up about 30 percent of the electorate -- invariably side with the winner and closely reflect the winning margin.
In 1988, Catholics supported George Bush by 52 to 47 percent, and he won the election, 54 to 44 percent. In 1992, Catholics split 44-35-20 among Bill Clinton, Bush and Reform Party candidate Ross Perot (the overall vote went 43-38-19).
In 1996, Clinton beat former Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.) and Perot by 53-37-9 among Catholics and 49-41-8 nationally.
Congressional exit polls reveal a slight pro-Democratic bias among Catholics, perhaps justifying the party's decision to appeal to them on the basis of economic and government policy.
In 1998, Catholics favored Democratic Congressional candidates, 53 to 47 percent, whereas the national electorate split, 53 to 49 percent for Republicans. In 1996, Catholics split 54 to 46 percent for Democrats, while the national split was 50-50. In 1994, Catholics supported the GOP by 53 to 47 percent, exactly matching the national vote.
In this election both presidential campaigns are covering their bases by referring to the "social justice" and "social renewal" gospels.
Deal Hudson, editor of Crisis magazine and a Bush adviser, said he is pleased Bush has returned to emphasizing "compassionate conservatism" on the stump as well as promising to restore "a culture of life." Meantime, Lieberman said at Notre Dame that the doctrine of separation of church and state has been stretched "far beyond what the framers of the Constitution ever imagined."
"We have practically banished religious values and religious institutions from the public square and constructed a 'discomfort zone' for even discussing our faith in public settings," he said.
Gore, in an action disparaged as "disinformation" by a leader of the RNC's Catholic task force, answered a questionnaire by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops that he "opposes ... partial-birth abortions," but added the proviso that legislation banning the procedure should "protect the life and health of the mother."
The pro-life movement regards such protections as a loophole so large as to permit the late-term procedure, which involves the killing of a viable fetus.
Some Roman Catholic bishops have made election-connected statements emphasizing an anti-abortion message, but members of the RNC task force say the church has been frightened out of political activism by threats to its tax exemption.
So the RNC task force has stepped in with mailings and phone calls to regular Mass attendees and others identified, in church directories and elsewhere, as "religiously active."
The second mailing, which RNC task force officials declined to release, emphasizes Gore's support for abortion rights and Bush's pro-life stance and their differing positions on school vouchers.
A poll conducted for Catholics for Free Choice, a liberal group, found Gore ahead among battleground-state Catholics by 44 to 41 percent. Nevertheless, the GOP seems to have a better plan for turning out its Catholic
11/01/00: Lurking in the shadows