How Trump and Biden are courting Catholic voters

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With a little more than three months to go until the Nov. 3 election, the campaigns of President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden are each making efforts to attract Catholic voters, a once-reliable Democratic constituency that in recent years has been up for grabs.

The campaigns and their surrogates say the choice is stark, each highlighting issues they believe will appeal to their kinds of Catholic voters: those motivated primarily by abortion and those who see in the last four years a turn away from caring for society’s most marginalized.

Mr Biden has spoken frequently about his own faith while talking to voters, especially in the early primary states.

His campaign has so far courted voters motivated by their faith by inserting “values” language into outreach aimed at traditional Democratic cohorts, such as women, Hispanics and L.G.B.T. people.

The Biden campaign also plans to announce a group of high-profile Catholics endorsing the former vice president later this summer.

In the meantime, the campaign launched a “Believers for Biden” online campaign, which includes virtual conversations with campaign staff and weekly prayer reflections.

The Biden campaign recently hired a faith outreach director, and it has specifically targeted Jewish, Muslim and even Republican-leaning  evangelical Christian voters, but it is seeking to imbue Mr Biden’s entire message with language informed by faith and values.

A recent campaign ad from the Biden campaign, for example, includes an image of a priest standing in a hospital room.

As for Catholic voters specifically, John McCarthy, a staffer on the Biden campaign, said Mr Biden’s personal story, as well the campaign’s theme will speak directly to faith voters.

“At the core of Catholicism is the message that we look out for our neighbour. As we look toward the general election, America has to answer the question of who we are.”

“At the core of Catholicism is the message that we look out for our neighbour. As we look toward the general election, America has to answer the question of who we are,” Mr. McCarthy said in a phone interview with America. “For Catholics, and for faith voters, the question is, are we going to look out for one another, see the other as ourselves? If they ask that, these voters will ultimately stand with Vice President Biden, who has a lifelong commitment to issues at the core of Catholic Social Teaching.”

Michael Wear, who worked in faith outreach for former President Barack Obama, has been critical of Democratic efforts to reach faith voters, especially in the 2016 election.

In 2008, then-candidate Barack Obama announced a National Catholic Advisory Council in April but in 2016, Hillary Clinton’s campaign did not organize a Catholic leadership team.

Mr Wear said he sees signs that the Biden campaign is taking faith outreach more seriously.

“The most important thing there needs to be is an explicit invitation to religious voters that Joe Biden wants their vote. That needs to be clear,” Mr Wear said. “The vice president doesn’t need to be doing faith events every other day, but what we’re looking for is one or two key moments where faith takes centre stage.”

(One small example: In a 2016 interview with The Atlantic, Mr Wear recalled that he had once drafted a strategy memo about the Democratic Party’s concern for “the least of these,” a nod to a story in the Gospels about Jesus’ concern for the poor and marginalized, a phrase met with confusion by another staffer. Four years later, on the Biden campaign’s web page highlighting his outreach to Catholic voters, is a section about the former vice president’s commitment to build an economy that protects “the least of these.”)

The Trump campaign, meanwhile, has resurrected its Catholics for Trump group, which got off to a rocky start earlier this year.

The campaign published a video in May—conversations with some of the group’s members, including the political pundit Mary Matalin and the conservative activists Matt and Mercedes Schlapp—after an in-person launch was scrapped in March because of the pandemic.

The event, which was supposed to be held in Wisconsin, drew criticism from at least one Catholic bishop, who wanted to distance the institutional church from the rally.

“Like all voters, Catholics have concerns on a number of issues and especially those that impact the most vulnerable.”

“Another member of Catholics for Trump who was part of the YouTube event says she is supporting the president’s re-election because of his views on abortion, an issue she said “reveals the heart and soul of a candidate and is a roadmap to their other positions.” Continue reading

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