Catholic vote will be critical in upcoming election, political analyst says

In the view of Arnold Hamilton, a political analyst for the Knight Ridder Tribune News Service, the Catholic vote will provably be decisive in defining the next election.

In his latest analysis about Democratic candidate John Kerry and his Catholicism, Hamilton argues that in a campaign in which a polarized electorate magnifies every swing vote, “how Catholics view Kerry - whose positions on abortion and stem cell research conflict with church teaching - could be pivotal, especially in heavily Catholic Midwestern states considered vital to Democratic prospects.”

In his analysis, Hamilton says that both Kerry and President Bush, a Methodist, recognize the power Catholic voters could wield in the election: “Bush taking steps to carve deeper into the traditional Democratic bloc and Kerry lashing out at conservative Catholics who question his commitment to the faith.”

According to the Knight Ridder analyst, America's 65 million Catholics represent more than one-fifth of the nation's population, many living in states with the most electoral votes, such as California, Texas, Florida, Illinois and Ohio.

“A few hundred votes in Florida swung the election to Bush four years ago. The same scenario could play out this year in Ohio or Illinois, for example, if the president is able to peel away enough Catholic votes from Kerry,” he says.

“Also up in the air: How will Latinos vote? They are overwhelmingly Catholic - and traditionally Democratic. Yet Republicans - including the Spanish-speaking Bush - have worked feverishly to make inroads with the group.”

“I believe that it's the key segment of the electorate that will decide this election,” says Luis Lugo, director of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

“Will we continue to see the trend that we have been seeing the last few elections - namely, that more Catholics are moving into the Republican ranks? Or will a Democratic candidate who's also a Roman Catholic be able to pull them back? Or will these cultural issues - and you should put gay marriage into that pot as well - be sufficient for the trend to continue?”

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