Tonight as both major party candidates gather at Pastor Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church in California for an evangelical candidate forum, they each will appeal to voters at a gathering that may only serve to further blur separation of church and state.
Each of the two campaigns will have different strategies and goals going in. John McCain needs the support of evangelical voters in November. Even though McCain has strong conservative positions on many social issues, evangelicals have been slow to warm up to him. For the first time since the evangelical movement has grown into a force within the Republican Party, the 2008 primary did not feature an evangelical candidate. McCain’s goal tonight is to simply assure and motivate evangelical voters to support him this fall.
In 2004 George W. Bush received 78% of the evangelical vote, and about the same degree of support in 2000. Currently, John McCain is at 64% support among those who consider themselves evangelical or born again voters. Evangelicals seem to be no different than the rest of the GOP in their apathy towards the McCain campaign, but McCain needs to at least equal Bush’s support, especially in states like Ohio, if he is going to have any chance of defeating Obama in November.
For Obama, the odds of winning the mass support of evangelical and born again voters are slim to none. Obama should have two goals going into tonight. First, he should use this forum as a platform to speak to the religious left. It has been a consistent goal of the Obama campaign to reenergize moderate to liberal religious voters. This is a group that Obama will be speaking directly to tonight.
His second goal should be to try to peel off a few conservative evangelical votes for himself, but to more importantly hold McCain’s percentage of support down. Because Obama’s positions on social issues all range from liberal to moderate, he won’t be able to connect with these voters on the issues. However, Obama is a Christian of deep faith, so expect him to talk about his faith often especially during the stewardship and leadership portions of his appearance.
The bigger question here is what purpose does an event like this serve? Beyond the fact that it is a made for cable news dream, if you aren’t a person of faith is a forum about leadership, stewardship, worldview, and America’s role overseas important to you? While these latter two topics sound like foreign policy areas, they are really buzzwords for two topics that evangelicals care very much about, Israel, and America’s role as policeman of the world. Tonight’s event will be based in ideology and faith, not policy.
This all makes me wonder why evangelicals are being catered to while all others are being ignored. It is the evangelical vote that valued Bush’s leadership and faith over all else, but never stopping to think that strong leadership and faith placed in the wrong policies is a bad thing. This event gives pundits something to talk about, and people like me something to write about, but I would much rather see the candidates sit down for an hour each and talk about the economy, healthcare, education, war and peace, and energy, than to hear them wax on with vague ideological buzz words. For me this is an event that will be all about the sizzle with a serious absence of steak.