Saturday, December 16, 2006

Democratic Candidates Finding Religion for 2008

The headline of the article says that Hillary Clinton has hired a "faith guru" to advise her on her 2008 bid for the White House, but she is not alone. Once you get into the meat of the article, it appears all the Democratic hopefuls are or will be making an effort to court "faith-based voters" going into the 2008 campaign.

From The Hill:
Clinton hires faith guru

Burns Strider, one of the Democratic Party’s leading strategists on winning over evangelicals and other values-driven voters, will join Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) as she prepares to launch her 2008 presidential campaign.

Strider now heads religious outreach for the House Democratic Caucus, and is the lead staffer for the Democrats’ Faith Working Group, headed by incoming Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.).

Incoming Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) created the working group in 2005 when Democratic strategists recognized that the party lost ground in the previous election because of trouble appealing to centrist and conservative voters in rural areas, who tend to be church-goers driven by moral issues. Strider was an aide to Pelosi when the group formed and joined Clyburn’s staff as policy director of the Democratic Caucus in 2006.

Strider’s move to Clinton’s camp suggests that Democrats will woo so-called faith voters in the 2008 election. The plan is buoyed by the Democrats’ success in winning over religious voters in Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania in the midterm elections.

Hillary has never hidden her faith, but many are cynical in thinking that she has been calculating in how she displays it. I personally think that everything she does is calculated -- I don't see in her the passion and fire that made Bill Clinton such a charismatic presence.

Be that as it may, Clinton is not the only candidate who has found religion. Her prime rival right now is Barack Obama, he of the smooth demeanor and wear-it-on-your-sleeve faith. And then there's the 2004 candidate who refuses to fade quietly into the irrelevance that is his presence, John Kerry, and is also trying to do something about his secular image.

But Clinton is not the only 2008 Democratic hopeful in position to appeal to religious voters. Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) joined conservative Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) to speak about AIDS two weeks ago before the congregation of the evangelical Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif. Last week Congress passed legislation sponsored by Obama that would allow people in bankruptcy to give to charitable and religious organizations.

Josh Dubois, an aide in his Senate office, is heading Obama’s religious outreach.

Sen. John Kerry (Mass.), who is also contemplating running for the 2008 Democratic nomination, has been active, too. In September, he gave a speech on “service and faith” at the conservative Pepperdine University. He has tapped Shaun Casey, an associate professor of Christian Ethics at Wesley Theological Seminary, to advise him on religious outreach.

Kerry also recently held a dinner at his D.C. home with evangelical leaders and traveled out to California for a four-hour meeting with Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church, who wrote the bestseller, “The Purpose-Driven Life.”

That three of the top contenders for the Democratic nomination will have aides or advisers specializing in religious outreach is a dramatic change from 2004, when Democratic presidential candidates viewed reaching out to values-voters as a low priority.

Of these three, the only one I trust to actually be able to appeal to faith-based voters is Obama -- he seems more authentic in his beliefs, and they have been there from the beginning in his books and in his actions.

Beliefnet is hosting Obama's seminal speech from this summer on faith an politics. Check it out to see why he has the best relationship with faith-based voters, and why he may have the best shot at winning in 2008.


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