'Swing Evangelicals'

Democrats seek to show that they also have faith-based values.
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As voters in Oklahoma and South Carolina prepare for presidential primaries on February 3, they're likely to hear more from Democrats about faith, God, and morality.

Pollsters and political analysts say that Al Gore might have won the Electoral College in 2000 if he had pursued the votes of "swing evangelicals" in West Virginia, Tennessee, and Florida. Early polls show that the November 2004 presidential reelection bid by President George W. Bush could be similarly close.

Democrats are worried that an increasingly religious public sees their party as opposing God and moral values. "I think we've made a mistake by not putting our values up front," Rep. Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.) said. Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) told The New York Times he is angry that "Republicans seem to suggest they have a monopoly on values in public life. They don't. We don't either, but we care about values, including faith-based values."

Republicans say Democrats are late in learning the importance of faith and morals. "Most evangelicals have been active in politics since the 1970s and are keen on distinguishing rhetoric from reality," said a senior Republican campaign adviser in Washington. "Values language has become a cliché itself, a high art in politics."

Despite some cordial overtures from Democratic presidential contenders Joe Lieberman and Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Democrats "are generally in a fog" about relating to evangelicals, said Richard Cizik of the National Association of Evangelicals.

Democrats' efforts to change their image have led to some awkward moments, even from veteran politicians familiar with church life. Campaigning in Marshalltown, Iowa, for instance, Gephardt, a Baptist, said that Jesus "was a Democrat, I think." Gephardt ...

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