Wednesday, June 11, 2008

McCain has appeal to evangelicals, even as he clashes with some of their leadership

From Steven Waldman for the WSJ:

The Myth of McCain’s Weakness Among Evangelicals
[...] But is this conventional wisdom really true? Or to be more precise, Sen. McCain clearly has a problem with evangelical leaders — but does he really have a major problem with evangelical voters?

On the contrary, Sen. McCain won the nomination in part because he did far better than expected with rank-and-file evangelicals. [...]

In a recent Rasmussen poll, Sen. McCain was winning 58% of evangelicals, and his Democratic rival, Sen. Barack Obama, was winning 32%.

Running Stronger Among Rank and File

Why would Sen. McCain be doing so much better among evangelical voters than evangelical leaders?

First, the leadership’s disgust with Sen. McCain stems from the candidate’s treatment of them. His “agents of intolerance” speech was not an attack on evangelicals, but on a few of their leaders.

Second, some of the issues over which Christian leaders have chastised Sen. McCain are inside-the-beltway concerns that don’t resonate with rank-and-file voters. For instance, Christian leaders often cite Sen. McCain’s authorship of campaign finance legislation that they believe would restrict their lobbying and advocacy abilities. Most voters care little about this issue.

Third, though he’s reluctant to talk about his personal faith, in many ways Sen. McCain is substantively in perfect alignment with today’s evangelical voters. They tend to be conservative but have veered from the religious right on a few issues, one of which is climate change – the exact issue that Sen. McCain has highlighted as his point of departure with Republican orthodoxy.

Fourth, Sen. McCain’s support of the Iraq war, his war-hero history and his emphasis on fighting terrorism appeals to those Christians who feel that fighting Islam has risen to the top of the list of important issues for Christians. For many Christians, Islamofascism is the new “gay marriage.” [...]

I think there are some excellent insights in this article. Evangelicals are not a monolithic bloc that all think exactly the same, there is some diversity among their views, and they can be more flexible on some issues than they are generally given credit for. They are also capable of understanding which candidate will ultimately serve their interests best, even if they can't agree with that candidate on every issue.

John McCain has by no means got the evangelical vote "in the bag", but neither has he lost it. Evangelicals were leary of Reagan at first too, but he was eventually able to gain their support. McCain may be able to do the same.

Related Links:

While I'm no fan of Newsweek, this interview with John McCain was pretty good, addressing their BS very directly:

How to Beat a Rock Star: ‘Substance.’
There is, McCain says, 'a right change and a wrong change.' His general-election case, in his own words.

And these two posts from Pat are also worth reading:

A new post-partisan mood?

It's a "Democratic year" and McCain is the best Democrat

Since Reagan's time, conservative Democrats have been essential for Republicans to win elections. It's true now, more than ever.

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