Are Democrats bungling their faith outreach?
Faith progressive democrats expressed apprehension recently that the party may be missing the boat by giving less emphasis to their faith outreach—more so with democratic control of Congress at stake in this fall’s general elections, the Washington Post reported.
The Democratic National Committee’s (DNC) faith staff of six has now dwindled to one part-time slot–a huge difference from the 2008 elections when the democrats hired faith consultants, advertised regularly on Christian radio and featured candidates, including President Obama, who spoke openly about their relationship with God, the Washington Post said.
Faith progressives are apprehensive after high-profile losses in the November Virginia gubernatorial race, and in a special election to fill the US Senate seat of the late Edward M. Kennedy in Massachusetts in January. In last week’s Democratic Senate primaries, there was little visible new faith outreach, to the dismay of party religious activists, the Washington Post reported.
When Obama took office he expanded the faith office that was established by President George W. Bush, which includes branches in a dozen federal agencies and a core staff that communicates with faith leaders about policy issues, according to the Washington Post.
Office director Joshua DuBois declined to comment on Democratic political outreach, but did say the White House is in frequent contact with faith leaders.
However, Timothy M. Kaine, chair of the DNC, and other party leaders attribute the decrease in paid faith staff to a new strategy in how the party does outreach, the Washington Post said.
The White House has opted to expand its network of grass-roots volunteers and shrink its national staff of organizers who were in the past broken down by race and religion, the Washington Post reported.
Patrick McKenna, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Democratic Party, said that the current economic climate has led to more focus on issues of recession rather than on faith based issues such as abortion, according to the Washington Post.
In the past many major democratic wins were credited in part to spending by national democratic organizations on faith outreach and by recruiting candidates who framed policy positions in terms of religious morality, the Washington Post said.
Notable among these were the 2005 victory of Kaine as governor of Virginia in 2005, a number of anti-abortion congressional Democrats in 2006, and Obama, who won more churchgoing voters in 2008 than any other Democratic presidential candidate in a decade, the Washington Post reported.
The Republican Party has a far more extensive infrastructure to connect with religious voters, especially evangelical Christians. It has databases filled with tens of millions of e-mail addresses as well as long-standing ties to religious broadcasters and conservative religious groups such as the Family Research Council and Focus on the Family, according to the Washington Post.
According to Kaine, a staff mem
ber who also does African American outreach has been assigned to oversee faith as well, but had been on medical leave. Kaine said the party will be hiring more faith staff and crafting a faith outreach plan as the fall election season gets close, the Washington Post said.
Brian Jones, a strategist and former communications director for the Republican National Committee said, “It’s not done in one or two or three political cycles.” The Republican party’s faith outreach dates as far back as the presidency of Ronald Reagan, the Washington Post reported.