Catholics — making up about a quarter of the Republican primary electorate — could form a formidable voting bloc in the months ahead. And so TIME magazine looks at some of the choices:
There is no natural fit for the conservative Catholic voter. Or, as Deal Hudson, who directed Catholic outreach for both Bush/Cheney campaigns, recently put it to my TIME colleague Elizabeth Dias: “All of the potential nominees will have their challenges with Catholics.”
That assessment, of course, excludes Santorum from the definition of “potential nominee.” Because if you’re a purist conservative Catholic, Santorum is your man. His credentials on the social issues are beyond dispute. The defining issue of his Senate career was the fight he led to ban so-called “partial-birth abortion.” “If I’m a conservative non-compromising Catholic,” says Rozell, “then I probably like Rick Santorum and want to give him support in order to make a statement.” Unfortunately for Santorum, only 1% of Republican voters appear to fall into that category.
Herman Cain might once have been a reasonable option for conservative Catholics. But his confusing statements on abortion have all but eliminated that possibility. At best, Cain’s remarks indicate a lack of familiarity with the political debate over abortion. And at worst, he sounds like a pro-choice politician. He can talk to Rudy Giuliani about how that works out in Republican primaries.
As with the Republican electorate overall, conservative Catholics currently seem to be divided between Mitt Romney and Anybody But Romney. Stephen Schneck, director of the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies at Catholic University, sees more pragmatic Catholic voters drifting over to the former Massachusetts governor. “Establishment Catholic Republicans are lining up behind Romney,” says Schneck. And Romney doesn’t have the same problem with Catholics as he does with evangelicals when it comes to his Mormon faith. “The Mormon issue is not an issue for Catholics,” explains Hudson. “Catholics as a group are highly sensitized to religious identity and freedom. They have been through that.”
But while Catholics may not care about the specifics of Romney’s faith, they are, if anything, more concerned about his record and position on abortion than evangelical voters are. That may be the frontrunner’s biggest obstacle to attracting meaningful Catholic support. As Michael Sean Winters pointed out this week on the National Catholic Reporter, Romney’s health care law in Massachusetts provided direct government funding for abortions. For Catholics who have voiced outrage over the possibility of indirect funding of abortion through Obama’s health reform law, this is a problem.
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