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God on the ballot

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    God on the ballot http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/5819171/ For Bush and Kerry, religion a powerful but tricky factor By Alex Johnson Reporter MSNBC Updated: 1:50
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 14, 2004
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      God on the ballot
      For Bush and Kerry, religion a powerful but tricky factor
      By Alex Johnson
      Updated: 1:50 p.m. ET Sept. 14, 2004

      Although He's regularly asked to do so, God does not take sides in American
      - Democratic former Sen. George Mitchell

      Tell it to the Republicans, senator. They're banking on Him.

      President Bush, a United Methodist, built his meteoric national rise on his
      appeal to conservative white evangelical Christians.

      Although Bush previously had made it clear that he was "born again," he was
      reluctant to discuss the details of his faith before he ran for president.
      That changed in 2000, as the Bush campaign highlighted the candidate's
      religious principles as the core of his proclaimed "compassionate
      conservative" agenda.

      It paid off in 2000. Exit polls showed that Bush won 55 percent of the
      Protestant vote, which made up more than half of the electorate; among white
      Protestants, Bush beat Al Gore by almost 2 to 1. The support was crucial -
      Gore won among every other measurable religious group, from black
      Protestants to Catholics to Jews to non-believers.

      For the president, paying close attention to his religious base doesn't just
      make sense - it is imperative. Opinion polling shows that Americans' votes
      most closely track their religious attendance. Voters who say they go to
      church every week vote Republican, by overwhelming margins. Those who go to
      church less frequently vote Democratic, by nearly similar proportions.
      Beginning with exit polls conducted during the 2000 election, the
      synchronicity has held across nearly all denominations and even faiths,
      appearing among Jews and Muslims, as well as Christians.

      For Bush, then, a critical goal in 2004 is to generate turnout among the
      nation's most religiously observant voters. The Bush campaign sees that task
      as being easiest among the president's own.

      Bush's main political adviser, Karl Rove, has said he was frustrated that as
      many as 4 million conservative white evangelical voters did not go to the
      polls four years ago. Those voters, the campaign believes, could make the
      difference in any of a number of closely divided states. In an election as
      tight as this one is expected to be, when one state could make the
      difference, the Republican Party has mounted a sophisticated pitch to what
      it sees as its base.

      Difference of opinion is helpful in religion.
      - Thomas Jefferson

      The president appeals to such voters across a shared belief that the Bible
      is the literal Word of God. It is a faith that recognizes a very real Devil.
      In fundamental terms, in other words, the president's faith divides the
      world into two camps: good and evil. There is no gray. There is only right
      and wrong.

      In "Plan of Attack," his examination of the Bush administration's buildup to
      the war in Iraq, Bob Woodward portrays Bush as unwavering in his belief that
      his cause was righteous, not merely right. "I haven't suffered any doubt,"
      Bush said in an interview with Woodward.

      The president's religious conviction is the defining measure of his life,
      and of his administration. Lest there be any doubt, Bush said in that book:
      "I was praying for strength to do the Lord's will. ... I pray that I will be
      as good a messenger of His will as possible."

      In June 2003, Mahmoud Abbas, then the Palestinian prime minister, said that
      in a conversation with Bush, the president told him: "God told me to strike
      at al-Qaida, and I struck them, and then he instructed me to strike at
      Saddam, which I did."

      Democrats and other Americans surprised by how strongly Bush's
      near-fundamentalist beliefs guide his governance can't say they weren't
      warned. Throughout the 2000 presidential campaign, Bush expansively talked
      about his faith and how it had rescued him from a squandered life of alcohol
      and failed business ventures. But even before then, he had hinted at a more
      direct connection between his beliefs and his political aspirations.

      Southern Baptist television evangelist James Robison related that in a
      telephone call in 1999, Bush told him, "I feel like God wants me to run for
      president." The same year, said Richard Land, president of the Ethics &
      Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, Bush told
      religious leaders at a meeting that "I've heard the call. I believe God
      wants me to be president."

      Those who say religion has nothing to do with politics do not know what
      religion is.
      - Mohandas K. Gandhi

      Not since 1960, when Sen. John F. Kennedy chose to confront head-on the
      perception that his Catholicism might disqualify him in the minds of many
      voters, have the religious beliefs of the major-party candidates played so
      prominent a role in the presidential election. Jimmy Carter's faith was
      widely commented upon in 1976, but he stressed that he saw no "special
      relationship" between God and politics, and the issue rarely came up in a
      serious context.

      This year, Bush's frequent invocations of religious principles and faith
      have raised complaints that he is blurring the line separating church and
      state. Meanwhile, Bush's Democratic opponent, Sen. John Kerry of
      Massachusetts - like Kennedy - is struggling with the demands of his

      For both men, religion is a tightrope they must walk carefully.

      The Bush campaign makes no secret of its hope to mobilize conservative white
      evangelical voters. Doing so too aggressively, however, risks alienating not
      only many moderate voters, including many Catholics, but also leaders of
      some conservative denominations for which independence from secular
      government is a point of principle.

      For Kerry, the Democratic Party's longstanding support for abortion rights,
      which he has endorsed, is condemned by Catholic doctrine. His candidacy has
      become a test case for a Catholic Church task force developing guidelines
      for how U.S. bishops should approach Catholic lawmakers who promote policies
      opposed by the church.

      Religious experience is highly intimate, and, for me, ready words are not at
      - Adlai Stevenson

      Catholic voters favored Gore by 50 percent to 46 percent over Bush in 2000,
      exit polls showed. As a Catholic himself, Kerry would hope to do even

      But the Catholic Church isn't exactly cooperating. Kerry disagrees with
      church doctrine on abortion, and the controversy has occasionally slowed his

      A handful of U.S. bishops said they would deny communion to
      pro-abortion-rights politicians, including Kerry, and two - Archbishop
      Raymond Burke of St. Louis and Bishop Michael Sheridan of Colorado Springs -
      said Catholics who voted for them would be guilty of a grave sin. In Los
      Angeles, meanwhile, a member of an ecclesiastical court filed heresy charges
      against Kerry.

      Republicans have sought to exploit Kerry's positions - he says he personally
      opposes abortion but believes it is a woman's choice that must be
      protected - as evidence that he is not a "good Catholic." Public opinion
      polling, however, suggests that the charge could rebound.

      The polling firm Belden Russonello & Stewart reported in June that 61
      percent of Catholics believed abortion should be legal. Even more, 72
      percent, said Catholic politicians who supported abortion rights should not
      be denied communion, according to a Washington Post/ABC News poll conducted
      in May, indicating that even some abortion opponents did not see the issue
      as make or break.

      Likewise on embryonic stem cell research. Bush issued an executive order
      three years ago banning federal funding for scientific research using new
      lines of stem cells harvested from human embryos. Many scientists believe
      such research could lead to significant advances in treatments for Alzheimer
      's and other neurological diseases, but Bush said that "even the most noble
      ends do not justify any means."

      The president is in line with the Vatican's stance on embryonic stem cell
      research, which a spokesman said "the Holy Father has always unequivocally
      condemned." Polls show that American Catholics overwhelmingly support such
      research - only 15% opposed it in a survey conducted in July by Harris

      The data explain, in part, why Kerry speaks so seldom about his faith. He
      does not need to.

      Bush's decision to target Catholics on religious grounds means he must talk
      to them in explicitly religious terms. Kerry, with Catholic voters on his
      side on many issues, is under no such obligation. To try to match Bush's
      rhetoric would be largely superfluous, and it would risk disaffecting less
      churchly voters.

      Kerry prefers to speak in terms of "values," a word that for him encompasses
      not just religious principles but also "social justice" issues that have
      little to do with religion. In that way, he can speak to religious voters
      without invoking individual faiths.

      "I don't wear my own faith on my sleeve, but faith has given me values and
      hope to live by, from Vietnam to this day, from Sunday to Sunday," Kerry
      said in his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention.

      The appeal is targeted at so-called "freestyle evangelicals," a term coined
      by Steven Waldman, founder of Beliefnet.com, and John Green, a political
      scientist at the University of Akron who is considered the foremost scholar
      on the politics of the American evangelical movement.

      Green estimates that as many as 40 percent of American evangelicals fit the
      definition: theologically conservative but politically independent and more
      troubled by what they see as the degradation of the world around them -
      popular culture, the environment, neglect of the disadvantaged - than they
      are by specific questions of doctrine. The term could apply equally as well
      to moderate Catholics, giving Kerry a surprisingly large pool of religiously
      conservative voters who could be open to his message.

      Again, polling data suggest that Kerry is already making noticeable inroads.

      In a major new survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, conducted
      last month, "moral values" emerged as a key issue in the presidential
      election, with 64 percent of likely voters saying it would be "very
      important to my vote." Even though conventional wisdom holds that those
      voters should overwhelmingly back Bush, Kerry was statistically tied -
      leading by 45 percent to 41 percent, in fact, but within the margin of
      error - when likely voters were asked which candidate "could do the best job
      in improving the nation's moral climate."

      Religion, as well as reason, confirms the soundness of those principles on
      which our government has been founded and its rights asserted.
      - Thomas Jefferson

      Both this year's Pew survey and a similar poll the foundation conducted last
      year make it clear that by a vast majority, Americans don't mind hearing
      their political leaders talk about their faith. That is a philosophy Bush's
      campaign has embraced, but it could hide a trap. While Americans like to
      talk about God and want to hear their leaders talk about Him, they are much
      more nervous when politicians openly let their faith determine their

      Last year, 70 percent of likely voters said there was just the right amount
      or even too little expression of faith and prayer by political leaders. At
      the same time, however, only 42 percent said politicians should be guided by
      religious principles, less than the 46 percent who said "religion and
      politics don't mix." And only 37 percent said religion frequently or
      occasionally affected their own voting.

      The surveys suggest that Bush's aggressive courting of deeply religious
      voters has exacted a cost. For even though 70 percent of voters thought in
      2003 that there wasn't too much religious discussion in politics, that has
      fallen to 63 percent in just the last year - and nearly all of that drop is
      blamed on Bush.

      The proportion of likely voters who thought Bush mentioned his religious
      faith and prayer too much jumped from 14 percent last year to 24 percent
      this year, a statistically significant difference. By contrast, only 10
      percent of likely voters thought Kerry spoke of his faith too much. (Kerry
      was not included in last year's survey.)

      In other words, while most Americans are quite comfortable with mixing
      politics and religion, they remain deeply suspicious of mixing church and
      state. For both candidates, the key to victory lies in finding the right

      [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
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