Bible thumpers don’t trust McCain

Religious zealot Ken Blackwell: God may not like John McCain (AP Photo)

If Christian conservatives stay on the sidelines during the fall campaign, presidential hopeful John McCain probably stays in the Senate.

Christian conservatives provided much of the on-the-ground, door-to-door activity for President Bush’s 2004 re-election in Ohio and in other swing states. Without them, the less-organized and lower-profile McCain campaign is likely to struggle to replicate Bush’s success. And so far, there’s been scant sign that the Republican nominee-in-waiting is making inroads among these fervent believers.

"I don’t know that McCain’s campaign realizes they cannot win without evangelicals," said David Domke, a professor of communication at the University of Washington who studies religion and politics. "What you see with McCain is just a real struggle to find his footing with evangelicals."

Family groups in Ohio outlined their doubts about the Arizona senator in a meeting with McCain’s advisers last weekend. They’re concerned about his record on abortion rights and on campaign finance laws that they believe limited their ability to criticize candidates who are pro-choice on abortion.

"There’s certainly a little reservation about Mr. McCain. I think the VP choice is going to be important," said Chris Long, president of the Ohio Christian Alliance. "If they choose a conservative for the VP, that will help his campaign. It would go a long way of sending a positive message to evangelicals."

Marlys Popma, McCain’s director of evangelical outreach, was one of two aides who met with the forum and reminded them of McCain’s record supporting school choice while opposing abortion rights and Internet pornography. She said the campaign understands the interest in the vice presidential nominee, but she noted that McCain "is the one who is going to be nominating judges. He’s going to be the one who is signing or not signing bills."

"John McCain is their guy," Popma said. "John McCain’s record is what will bring individuals to him. I think there are some people out there who do not know John McCain’s record."

McCain’s senior aides try to downplay the fissure with this part of the GOP’s base. They say their internal polling data suggests McCain has the support of three-quarters of white evangelicals in swing states, slightly less than Bush finished with. They also stress that McCain is against abortion rights, even if it’s not the centerpiece of his campaign.

McCain, who identifies himself as Episcopalian and attended Baptist services last weekend, has done himself no favors. He appeared ignorant of high-profile figures, especially as he sought — and then was forced to reject — the support from Ohio’s Rod Parsley and Texas’ John Hagee after their controversial sermons brought the candidate unwanted criticism.

"That was one of the most ill-advised faith and values adventures this campaign," said Jacques Berlinerblau, a religious scholar at Georgetown University who studies faith and the U.S. presidential campaign.

It gave religious conservatives yet another reason not to like McCain, even though he has sought a truce this time after calling televangelists Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell "agents of intolerance" during his first presidential run.

"It’s hard to believe he’s really changed, from his absolute disregard and disdain for the traditional guard of the religious right," Domke said.

Republican Ken Blackwell, Ohio’s former secretary of state, coordinated Bush’s campaign in the state and built a strong ground game from Christian conservatives. He said he appreciates McCain’s bluntness but doesn’t think it’s helping him with the base.

"He has never identified with the evangelical and Christian movement and therefore he can, at times, misread or misinterpret certain activities in the political field of play or certain comments that are offered," said Blackwell, now at the Family Research Council, a conservative think tank. "I personally would like for John to get to the point of comfort with some of our issues and policy positions, through understanding and genuine acceptance."

High-emotion ballot initiatives banning gay marriage in 11 states helped drive conservatives to the polls in 2004. Ohio’s ban helped give Bush a win by energizing the party’s base in a state that every successful Republican presidential candidate has won. But only two states proposed such bans this year: Florida, a swing state, and California, which has been an easy win for Democrats in recent years.

One of the more influential figures among Christian conservatives, James Dobson, told listeners to his popular Focus on the Family radio program this week that Obama’s religious views are problematic. Yet Dobson continued to vent about McCain, who has not been a vocal supporter of Arizona’s state ban on gay marriage.

"This is a year when we have a lot of frustration with both political parties," Dobson said Tuesday.

Domke’s research suggests Obama could lose big among older evangelicals, particularly elite faith-based activists, who take their cues from Dobson.

Bob Heckman, who leads McCain’s outreach to conservatives, said voters will see clear differences — and McCain’s values better dovetail with their views than do Obama’s, he added.

"Part of our job is to remind them they’re down to a binary choices," Heckman said.

But Dobson has not backed off his statement that he could not in good conscience vote for McCain and has suggested he might not cast a presidential ballot.

"A lot of evangelicals would rather take a defeat than to vote for a candidate they don’t trust," Domke said. "A Republican defeat, particularly McCain’s defeat, would help their movement."

Although the Arizona Republican’s advisers privately worry about rejection by the religious right, McCain’s campaign lacks the faith-based savvy of Bush’s campaigns. McCain skipped the Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting, a gathering that Bush addressed by video in 2004. Unlike Bush, whose campaign also threw a private reception at that meeting, McCain didn’t even bother sending aides.

Meanwhile, Obama’s campaign is aggressively reaching out to evangelicals.

The Illinois senator dispatched former 9/11 Commission member Tim Roemer to meet with fellow Roman Catholics. He sent Brian McLaren, one of the country’s most influential pastors, to meet with fellow evangelicals. And aides have conducted more than 200 "American Values Forums," soon to be followed up with house parties and town hall-style meetings aimed at young Catholics and young evangelicals.

Obama’s strategy isn’t aimed at outpolling McCain among evangelicals.

"Obama knows he can’t win (among evangelicals)," said Berlinerblau, who wrote "Thumpin’ It: The Use and Abuse of the Bible in Today’s Presidential Politics."

"If he can get up for 21 to 30 percent, he’s gold," Berlinerblau said. "And that’s exactly what he’s doing. He’s going to fissure off this progressive evangelical voter."


  1. Helen Rainier

    Finally — something I can agree with the conservative evangelicals about — their distrust of McCain.

  2. Bluesman2007

    I’m confident Obama will sweep McSame. Everyone knows, whether they EVER admit it to anyone else, that McSame is yet another disaster waiting to happen.

    But Obama’s winning the presidency is only the beginning folks. We have to make sure everyone follows through. It’s not going to be easy but it WILL be the right thing to do. When the rest of the world sees us cleaning our own house, only then will they be receptive to cleaning theirs.

    But regardless of what any other countries do or don’t do, it’s unquestionably the right thing for US to do for US! For that, I’m trying desperately to maintain my optimism. Seeing the country I love circling the drain has not been a good experience.

    This last 8 miserable years have been living proof of the fact that true democracy is a muscle that must be periodically exercised or it atrophies and dies. We’re suffering the consequences of not paying attention. I hope, knowing this, that we never make that mistake again.

  3. Bluesman2007

    What I meant to include was:

    “When the rest of the world sees us cleaning our own house rather than bomb theirs, only then will they be receptive to cleaning theirs.”

  4. Sandra Price

    Let the religious Evangelicals stay home. They have never represented a voting force before 2000 when the move to repeal Rove v Wade was introduced. The core of their religion is that life begins at conception therefore making an abortion or miscarriage a federal crime.

    If this absurd concept in freedoms is elected, our federal government would become a major police state resembling the Inquisitions of Europe. I dare anyone to locate in the U.S. Constitution where our moral actions are laid out to match any religion. There is nothing keeping these Evangelicals from living by their own rules, but they cannot impose them on others.

    No McClain in 2008!

  5. anoyaliberal

    Well we will not stay at home and no we really don’t trust Mccain in fact most of us don’t trust any of the political puppets running.One thing most of us are sure of is we don’t want want a moslem in office and no matter how many lies obama tells about being a Christian and an American he acts and talks otherwise.By the way I love the tags the sinners like to give us such as –omg fundamentalists eeeek we believe in the fundementals of something.well without fundamentals you have nothing where would math be without fundamentals oh yea I forgot ,the IRS!and no we havent turned this country into something akinned to the spanish inquisition and it was sound bible believing educated men that set up and wrote the constitution .They had no way of knowing what a moral sewer America would become in such a short time.Well maybe you will get lucky and have your moslem and then you wont have to worry about the Evangelicals or the Jews or the Americans because rather than have thou shalt not kill you can have thou shalt have ethnic cleansing of all non moslems. Happy voting if you can crawl out from under your sin long enough to make it to the polls.

  6. dbumRob

    Funny-mentalist thumpers

    won’t trust anyone that isn’t at least talkin’ the talk. You know, a Ted Haggard type of hypocrite. But then thumpers have two problems.

    They represent, among the number of believers in this country, a small percentage. Many, likely most, believers are smart enough to know what it means to live in a democracy, elect representatives, and how to separate that from their religion. These thumpers however, like conservatives, are an actually minority with microphones and a demonstrated penchant for distorting the truth.

    Their second problem is their ignorance. They rank high among those that don’t know (according to the National Science Foundation surveys for the last two decades) that the earth revolves around the sun(1 in 5 adults), what radiation is and will do to the body(9 in 10 adults), or the role DNA plays in heredity(2 of 3 adults). They also are woefully ignorant of America’s history, as can be seen at many web sites that offer comments, not to mention their self taught historian’s(David Barton) admission to making up quotes he attributed to the Founders and taught as truth. Or consider their new Creation Museum in Kentucky that implies dinosaurs were present on the ark with Noah.

    Over the last several years, I have seen several former believers walk away from church’s that have lost their way in their own world. I made it through the ’80s before I saw the light and realized it wasn’t who I thought it was or his earthly representatives. Now my mission is not unlike Dr. Winell’s, helping those people recovery from toxic faith.

  7. woody188

    “Part of our job is to remind them they’re down to a binary choices,” Heckman said.

    In other words, voters have to pick between bad and worse. Republicans like to try to over-simplify issues into black or white when there are varying degrees of gray. Don’t want to upset their mentally challenged base with more than two choices!

    Step out of the box and write in Ron Paul for real conservative change.

  8. pollchecker

    They have a good reason NOT TO TRUST McCain!

    a)he is a major league flip flopper
    b)he is a major league hypocrite
    c)he does not care about their agenda and is only pandering to them in order to get their votes

    If it wasn’t for crazies like Dobson and Robertson, McCain might not have any evangelical support AT ALL!

    I wonder exactly who is going to vote for Bush/McCain 08?

    Oh, that’s right, the neo-cons who watch Fox News and have been totally indoctrinated in the program.

    Remember to Re-elect 4 MORE YEARS BUSH/MCCAIN 08!


  9. ridingchick

    John Bush McCain is already in the early stages of dementia. It continues to amaze me that no one seems to notice this.

    Bomb Iran? This is the ramblings of a demented old MAD MAN. How can the people of this country, continue to vote against our own interests? Remember, this is the nut case that will seat at least 3 Supreme Court justices in the next term. If he won’t lift a finger to help the veterans of this country, what do you think he will do for the rest of America?

    Can we as true Patriot Americans, risk more generations to this moron? I think not!

    Mr. Obama is a not a cure to end all. Let’s give him a chance and see what happens. It took Bush and his cronies 8 years to destroy this country. We have lost our edge and respect among nations because of greed and selfishness.
    If we are to survive, we must come together and stop the nonsense.

    Please everyone, for the sake of this country and generations to come, give Mr. Obama a chance. He is going to be the President for ALL PEOPLE!

    Obama ’08

  10. DejaVuAllOver

    Nice post, dbumRob. I too bailed on the Church long ago and thank God every day for doing so. Wisdom only comes to those who seek it THEMSELVES and there is no shortcut. Books can help, but there isn’t one clear winner and certainly not a “chosen” book or race or sect. And in my opinion the word “faith” is the dirtiest word in the English language. Once you have “faith”, reason, experience and knowledge become irrelevant and you’re just another sucker who will believe whatever some filthy lowlife like Bush, Robertson, Haggert etc. wants you to believe.

  11. Sandra Price

    Good posts, folks. I will give Obama a chance in 2008 but I will keep a close eye on the Dobson and the rest of the GOP. I want them dumped by the RNC and keep the Constitution clear of those pesty prohibitions that Bush tried for. Americans do not need prohibitions to lead our lives successfully. All we need is an honest government who will never lie and manipulate again for any purpose. If we invested in American products and keep our Universities open for new projects, we would again be king of the hill.

  12. Michela

    Great posts, every one! Good to see there is still some sanity and reason out there. Can anyone tell me whatever happened to Separation of Church and State? I’m with Deja VuAllOver. If I hear the word “faith” one more time, I’m going to scream!

  13. Sandra Price

    When Bush announced his plan to pay faith-based grants to the churches, it was one of the reasons the religious right voted for him. The great Christian churches are as greedy as our officials. Everyone of the churches that receive these grants should lose the 501(c)(3) tax status but we no longer have a government of laws. The Separation of Church and State was mentioned in Letters between Jefferson and Madison and the government kept to it until Bush 43 was elected. It is something I have been complaining about for years. It was never a part of the Constitution so Bush ignored it.