Supporters of all major party candidates for the United States presidency are angling to discover how to best appeal to Catholic voters, who could be a key swing vote in the November presidential election. According to Robert Reilly, a successful McCain campaign must win over Catholics to win the White House.
Robert R. Reilly, who was President Ronald Reagan’s liaison to Catholics between 1983 and 1985, told CNA on Wednesday that Senator John McCain could not win the presidential election without the Catholic vote, which makes up about 25 percent of the electorate. “The worst thing he could assume is that [the Catholic vote] is going to fall into his lap because Catholics will have nowhere else to go,” he said.
Reilly argued that McCain could emulate Ronald Reagan’s successful appeal to the Catholic vote during his 1984 presidential campaign. Reagan’s campaign ran advertisements in Catholic newspapers featuring a photo of Reagan and Pope John Paul II smiling together. The photo, Reilly claimed, was effective because Reagan shared positions “completely congruent with those of the Catholic Church” on issues like the family, the sanctity of human life, pornography, and school prayer.
Senator McCain, Reilly said, “cannot simply claim that point of view; he needs to promote it.” Reilly noted that Reagan held a White House screening of Bernard Nathanson’s film of an abortion, titled “The Silent Scream.” Reagan also published a noteworthy essay, “Abortion and the Conscience of the Nation,” in the Human Life Review. The essay helped convince Catholic pro-lifers of Reagan’s sincerity, Reilly said.
Reilly suggested McCain ask his Democratic opponent to watch “The Silent Scream” or an equivalent film with him. He said McCain should write a pro-life essay similar to Reagan’s for publication in a prominent Catholic-friendly journal.
Senator McCain could also make the upcoming U.S. visit of Pope Benedict XVI an opportunity to display his understanding of the Pope’s thought on the family, the sanctity of human life, and the nature of radical Islam.
McCain needed to take risks to show his conviction in order to appeal to Catholics, Reilly claimed.
“If he throws as much conviction and energy into these issues as he did into his backing of the surge, Catholics and others will flock to his banner -- and he can win. If he tries to coast on the moral issues, he will not,” said Reilly.
The Democrats, too, are debating how to capture the Catholic vote in the presidential primary contest between Illinois Senator Barack Obama and New York Senator Hillary Clinton.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the Clinton campaign has argued that its strength among Catholics in the Democratic presidential primaries could mean their candidate would be stronger than Senator Barack Obama against Republican candidate Senator John McCain.
Clinton won 63 percent of the Democratic Catholic vote in Ohio and 65 percent in Texas. Even in states where she lost to Obama, Clinton in some cases still won the Catholic vote in those states.
Catholics are also poised to play a large role in the Democratic primaries since a recent survey of 19 states that have held presidential primaries this year shows 63 percent of Catholics identified themselves as Democrats, while 37 percent identified themselves as Republican. In 2005, Edison/Mitofsky polls claimed that only 42 percent of Catholics identified themselves as Democrats.