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Jewish World Review Nov. 3, 2000 / 5 Mar-Cheshvan 5761

Morton Kondracke

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Parties appeal to two 'gospels' -- IN EVERY RECENT ELECTION, whoever carried the Roman Catholic vote also won the presidency. This year, polls indicate that vote is up for grabs. Democrats are trying to win it by preaching "social justice," while Republicans emphasize "social renewal."

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 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 vote.

JWR contributor Morton Kondracke is executive editor of Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


11/01/00: Lurking in the shadows
10/26/00: What's Gore's Social Security plan?
10/18/00: While Bush, Gore debate surplus, Congress spends it
10/16/00: Two debates leave lots of questions
10/03/00: What questions should be debated?
09/28/00: Gore and Bush should prepare to lead
09/19/00: Bush let values issue slip away
08/25/00: Gore hands center to Bush
08/22/00: AlGore, look to future, not to Bubba
08/08/00: 2000 race could leave high road for low
08/03/00: Convention must point Bush to center
08/01/00: GOP Readies 'Debt Lockbox' As 2000 Strategy
07/27/00: Cheney adds heft to GOP ticket
07/25/00: Foreign, Defense Policy Deserves Full 2000 Debate
07/20/00: Truman Show: Gore Replays 1948, But Bush Isn't Dewey
07/18/00: Bush Must Fight Gore's Drug Plan As 'Bad Medicine'
07/13/00: Mexico's Election Supports U.S. Action On NAFTA, Bailout
07/10/00: Abortion is good for something --- just ask AlGore
07/06/00: Meet Steve Ricchetti, Bubba's secret weapon
06/30/00: AlGore is down, but is he out?
06/27/00: Social programs caught in election-year game of one-up
06/22/00: Congress Is Near Flunking a Test On School Reform
06/16/00: Doting on the grandparents
06/13/00: On Stem Cells, Bush Has Wrong Pro-Life Stance
06/08/00: Has Gore Caught Bush?
05/26/00: PNTR Vote Could Tell Which Party Fits 'New Economy'
05/23/00: The secret to winning the election: Economic programs
05/18/00: Gore should regroup
05/16/00: McCain's Support Is Tepid, But Lets Bush Focus on Gore
05/11/00: Voters need wonk training
05/09/00: Bush Could Score With Charge That Gore's Too Partisan
04/28/00: Reno's force aids Clinton, not Elian
04/25/00: Should Clinton be indicted?
04/24/00: Can Gore win on Bush tax cuts?
04/18/00: Levin's 'bridge' key to China trade?
04/11/00: Congress, U.S. Voters Still Aren't Ready For Campaign Reform
04/06/00: Bush, Gore Silent As Popular Culture Gets Ever Coarser
03/30/00: Is 2000 Like 1948, 1976 or 1960? Or Is This Unparalleled?
03/28/00: Will Bush, Gore Go for a Better Way To Pick Nominees?
03/23/00: Medicare cutbacks bleed hospitals
03/20/00: Chances Improve That China Trade Will Pass Congress
03/16/00: Lieberman as veep would help Gore
03/14/00: Can Bush, McCain Unite to Beat Gore?
03/09/00: Can GOP Forge Unity After Nasty McCain-Bush Race?
03/07/00: What accounts for McCain's excesses?
03/02/00: 'Debate' Proved Gore Is This Year's Best Gut-Fighter
02/29/00: Surprises! The 2000 GOP race is full of it
02/25/00: Voters want centrist in White House
02/23/00: Gore would hit McCain's record
02/15/00: Will negativity hurt McCain in S.C.?
02/10/00: How hard should Bush hit McCain?
02/08/00: Bush must retool his entire campaign
01/27/00: Could Gore beat Bush as Truman beat Dewey?
01/20/00: Big New Surplus Estimates Could Alter 2000 Politics
12/21/99: Bush improves, everyone panders
12/16/99: Prospects improve for campaign reform
12/14/99: Riots raise free trade as 2000 issue
12/10/99: Gore won GOP 'debate' in N.H.
12/07/99: Election pits Bush cuts vs. Medicare boost
12/03/99: Can race be a constructive issue in 2000?
11/19/99: White House race may be best in decades
11/16/99: Where is Bush on health care fight?
11/11/99: Will TV stop profiteering from politics?
11/09/99: Is GOP isolationist, or just partisan?
11/04/99: Gore, Bradley Run Opposite Races On Style, Substance
11/01/99: GOP, Clinton could reach deal swiftly
10/27/99: Bush to fight 'culture wars' -- positively
10/21/99: Porter, Mack: heroes on medical research
10/19/99: Gore scores among party big shots, but polls go South
10/14/99: Bush critiques could help GOP Congress
10/12/99: Congress can save health care from ruin
10/07/99: Will gun-control cause the GOP to shoot itself in the foot?
10/05/99: Gore moves: Desperate but necessary
10/01/99: Fox, Armstrong make case for NIH
09/28/99: Dems' race brightens Bush's chances
09/23/99: East Timor deflates `Clinton Doctrine'
09/21/99: Buchanan v. Bush? Yeah right
09/17/99: Candidates turn attention to poverty
09/15/99: Bush's education problem
09/09/99: Budget makes 2000 an `issues' election
09/07/99:Airport rage increases, with good reason
09/02/99: U.S. future up for grabs in 2000
08/31/99: U.S. Capitol needs visitor's center -- soon
08/24/99: Will 2000 be the year of the foreign crisis?
08/19/99: Neither party has upper hand for '99
08/17/99: Ford gets freedom medal one month early
08/12/99: There's time to catch Bush, say Gore aides
08/10/99: Rudy, Hillary try much-needed makeovers
08/09/99: GOP must launch new probe of Chinagate
08/02/99: Pols blow fiscal smoke on budget surplus
08/02/99: One campaign reform should pass: disclosure
07/27/99: Gore leads Bush in policy proposals

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