WOOING RELIGION REPORTERS: CNN Belief Blog editor Dan Gilgoff (left) moderates panel discussion with (left-to-right) Romney adviser Mark DeMoss and Obama surrogates Broderick Johnson and Michael Wear. (Photo by Explorations Media, L.L.C.)
Personal questions about faith should be off-limits, but questions about how faith informs policy shouldn’t, representatives of the Obama and Romney campaigns told reporters at the Religion Newswriters Assocation annual meeting in Bethesda, Maryland, October 5.
Speaking as an unpaid senior adviser to the Romney campaign, Mark DeMoss said he concluded six years ago that Romney, with whom he shares “common values” but “different doctrinal or theological backgrounds,” is “uniquely qualified and competent to be the president.” The fact that Romney (a Mormon) is “a man of faith” is a “bonus,” said the evangelical DeMoss.
“I feel strongly that no one should vote for any candidate at any level because of their faith. … That mindset, in my view, is similar to a Christian yellow-pages mentality … where you would just patronize Christian-owned businesses,” DeMoss explained. People generally look for quality and competence in daily life decisions, he said. “If the selected competent choice happens to be a person of faith, that might be seen as a bonus. If they happen to be a person of similar faith, maybe that’s a double bonus.”
DeMoss alone represented the Romney campaign at the discussion moderated by CNN Belief Blog editor Dan Gilgoff. Two representatives spoke for the Obama campaign: senior Obama campaign adviser and head of Catholic outreach Broderick Johnson and national faith coordinator Michael Wear.
“It’s fundamentally important that we can’t tell reporters what to ask and we can’t control those factors, but from our campaign … and Governor Romney’s campaign, personal faith is off-limits,” said Wear.
“Barack Obama has been more willing than many Democratic candidates to talk about how his faith informs him,” said Johnson. But, he said, neither candidate talks about how they practice their faith. Johnson seemed to contradict himself when he later said, “How they practice their faith and their values does matter and gives people an important set of barometers to make decisions about who they’re going to vote for.”
Wear also referred journalists to President Obama’s convention speech as evidence that his faith informs his decisions. In that speech, Obama quoted Abraham Lincoln’s statement about the pressures of the presidency sending him to his knees. “That wasn’t an off-hand gesture; it was actually a reference he made in his [National] Prayer Breakfast speech. … So this is something that he’s talked about, but he talks about it on his own terms,” said Wear.
After the panel discussion UrbanFaith asked Wear if the Obama campaign’s tone has changed from 2008 when then-Senator Obama spoke eloquently and personally about his faith during a Saddleback Church discussion with the Rev. Rick Warren and Senator John McCain in Lake Forest, California.
“I’d say our priority on the faith vote is in talking about the choice that people of faith have in this election,” said Wear. “The president doesn’t think that it’s his job to go out and convince folks about his faith. …It’s something very personal to him and it’s something that he’s not going to be tried about. He’s not going to manufacture things.” The best “on-the-record statement” about the president’s faith can be found in his recent interview with the National Cathedral magazine, Wear said.
Asked why President Obama was so forthcoming four years ago at Saddleback, Wear said the president didn’t bring the subject up and was “introducing himself to the American people.” “[They] wanted to know who he was,” said Wear.
Coincidentally, the Pew Research Center distributed a quiz to RNA journalists in Bethesda that included a question about whether more or less Americans question President Obama’s faith identity in 2012 than did in 2008. The organization reported earlier this year that in 2008, 55% of survey respondents identified the president as a Christian, while only 49% do so now. Four years ago, 12% thought the president was a Muslim. That figure has risen to 17%.
All three campaign surrogates advocated a broader range of issues that are informed by faith than so-called “culture war” concerns like abortion and same-sex marriage. Among those mentioned were the economy, tax policy, immigration, and heath-care reform. Wear said that if faith is a daily part of politicians’ lives, “they’re going to be looking through that lens on all their decisions.”
What do you think?
Should questions about the candidates’ faith be off-limits?
Opening night of the Republican National Convention at the Tampa Bay Times Forum will be a multi-cultural affair. Not only is ex-Democratic Congressman and former Obama supporter Artur Davis speaking, but so are South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley and first lady of Puerto Rico, Luce’ Vela Fortuno. Mike Huckabee and Ann Romney are also on the agenda and the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez will offer the benediction.
If you can’t be there, don’t worry, because the Republicans have organized their grand party as a “convention without walls.” Monday night’s theme will be “We Can Do Better,” Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus announced August 20. “Americans know we can do better than joblessness, poverty and debt,” said Priebus. “This convention will present our vision for a brighter, better future and it will lay out an optimistic, achievable plan to make it happen.” Given what seems like an obvious attempt to put a multi-racial face on the mostly White party, we’re wondering what Republicans will offer voters of color on the issues that matter to them most. Here are a few possibilities:
In the seven swing states of Nevada, Florida, Colorado, Wisconsin, Ohio, Virginia and Iowa, “jobless rates all rose or were flat in July,” Reuters reported. “A majority of Americans view the economy as the most important issue facing the country, according to a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll.” Check out our interview with Romney’s senior communications adviser Tara Wall for what she says her boss will do to address these economic concerns.
With Romney’s choice of Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan as his running mate, Ryan’s “signature legislative proposal, the Path to Prosperity, has been widely criticized for its reduction of taxes for corporations and wealthy Americans — while deeply cutting social welfare programs,” The Root reported. “The Paul Ryan budget effectively destroys Medicare by turning it into a voucher program; slashes funding to Medicaid, which serves single mothers, children and the poor; and privatizes Social Security, leaving the elderly without a safety net.” And yet, conservative columnist David Brooks says it’s better than the Democratic alternative.
Education and Voting Rights
The NAACP and the National Education Association “are teaming up to register, educate and activate hundreds of thousands of voters ahead of the 2012 elections,” the NAACP announced August 20. “In the last two years, more states have passed more laws pushing more voters out of the ballot box than at any time since the rise of Jim Crow,” said NAACP President Benjamin Jealous. “The extremists behind these laws know that the right to vote is the gateway to protecting so many of the other rights we care about, including the right to quality public schools for the next generation.” Will Republicans address these charges?
“The Obama administration’s [brand new] Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals could expand the rights of more than 1 million young illegal immigrants by giving them work permits, though they would not obtain legal residency here or a path to citizenship,” Politico reported. “Republican critics accuse President Barack Obama of drafting the plan to boost his political standing with Latinos ahead of November’s vote and say the program favors illegal immigrants over unemployed American citizens during dismal economic times,” the article said. But do voters care?
Abortion and Same Sex Marriage
“Relatively few black Americans and Hispanic Americans believe that cultural issues such as abortion (17% and 30%) and same-sex marriage (18% and 26%) are critical issues facing the country,” the Public Religion Research Institute reported in July. Does the media make more of culture-war issues than voters do?
“Black Protestants favor stricter gun control even more strongly than Catholics, according to a 2011 ABC News/Washington Post poll, with 71 percent saying they want tougher gun laws,” Religion News Service reported after recent shootings at a Colorado movie theater and a Sikh house of worship in Wisconsin. Will politicians pay attention to everyday urban violence concerns when the news media doesn’t?
What Does It Mean?
The Republicans have their work cut out for them. A Pew Research Center Poll conducted in late July found that only 4 percent of Blacks and 26 percent of Hispanics would have voted for Governor Romney if the election was held on the day the poll was conducted.
What do you think?
What issues to you want to hear the Republicans talk about next week?