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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Can Dems Win Evangelicals?

by Pete Ross
…is a question that would have been quickly dismissed a few years ago, but is now well worth asking, suggests Amy Sullivan in her New Republic Online article “The Christian Right Moves Left: Base Running.” Sullivan recounts a recent incident at Messiah College in which GOP Senator Rick Santorum was char-grilled by evangelical environmentalists, who were unhappy with his opposition to the Kyoto Accords and support of drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Sullivan sees the incident as emblematic of a larger trend within the evangelical community — and a growing problem for the GOP:

…Rove is also reportedly worried about another group of evangelicals: the nearly 40 percent who identify themselves as politically moderate and who are just as likely to get energized about aids in Africa or melting ice caps as partial-birth abortion and lesbian couples in Massachusetts. These evangelicals have found the White House even less open to their concerns than their more conservative brethren have…They have also been aggravated by the refusal of the Christian right’s old guard to embrace new causes like the environment and global poverty.

Others have noted the growing interest in environmental causes among evangelicals, as evidenced by their increasing references to Genesis 2:15, in which God tells Adam to “watch over” the Garden of Eden “and care for it,” posited against the sorry record of the GOP on every environmental issue. Sullivan offers a revealing statistic in this context that should be of interest to all Dem candidates:

…63 percent of evangelicals in a March survey released by the Evangelical Environmental Network agreed that global warming is an immediate concern.

It is doubtful that Dems will win a majority of self-described evangelicals. Yet it is quite possible that they can win a healthy slice of the evangelical vote this year and in ’08. (For more on the political attitudes of white evangelicals, see John Halpin’s and Ruy Teixeira’s American Prospect article “The Politics of Definition, Part II”) But it won’t happen automatically. As Sullivan points out, the national Democratic Party, as well as state and local candidates, must make a focused commitment and an energetic effort to make it a reality.