Santorum’s surprising appeal to evangelicals: “He represents a game-changer”

Not so long ago, evangelical Christians wouldn’t seriously consider voting for an observant Catholic. But not this year:

After more than a century of widespread antipathy between Catholics and evangelical Christians, a Catholic with Italian immigrant roots from the industrial Northeast has emerged as the favored presidential candidate among evangelicals, even in states he lost over all, like Ohio and Illinois. On the eve of Louisiana’s primary on Saturday, Mr. Santorum had won a plurality of the evangelical vote in 9 of 16 states, according to exit polls by Edison Research.

“Santorum represents a game-changer,” said D. Michael Lindsay, the president of Gordon College, a Christian school near Boston, and an expert in evangelical voting patterns. “His candidacy has the potential to reshape conservative political alignment, securing once and for all evangelical support for a conservative Catholic in public life.”

Mr. Santorum has, in fact, performed far better with evangelical Christians than with Catholics, who have preferred Mitt Romney, a Mormon, in virtually every state. Through a critical reading of the data, Mr. Santorum’s base of evangelical Protestants and conservative Catholics could be seen by cynics as a coalition of zealots, held together by intolerance. By another way of thinking, however, his candidacy offers proof of a growing tolerance on the part of evangelical Christians, a willingness to shed ancestral religious prejudices.

It is worth remembering how viciously evangelical Protestants opposed Catholics early in the 20th century on issues like immigration and Prohibition. When Al Smith became the first Catholic to run for president in 1928, he was subjected to arguably the most bigoted attacks of any presidential candidate in history, accused of harboring secret plans to ban the Bible and end democracy in obeisance to the pope.

In 1960, when John F. Kennedy became the next Catholic to seek the presidency, such prominent evangelical ministers as the Revs. Billy Graham and Norman Vincent Peale privately strategized over how to defeat him. Kennedy ultimately had to deliver a speech endorsing the separation of church and state, and by inference declaring his independence from the pope, to quell fears about his Catholicism.

While evangelical Christians’ opposition to Catholicism has declined since then, virulent remnants do remain. In the 2008 campaign, Senator John McCain had to renounce the support of a megachurch pastor, the Rev. John Hagee, who had a history of disparaging Catholicism, as he did in one 2003 sermon, as “the apostate church,” the “mother of harlots” and “this mother-child cult.” The Lutheran synod that Representative Michele Bachmann, who ran for president this time around, belongs to states in its doctrines that “the papacy is the Antichrist.”

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  1. Mark Greta says:

    This election unites many people drawn together by the horror of the Democratic Party of godless secularism that continues to attack everything that the country was founded upon. Thus it should be no surprise to see Evangelicals and many other faiths uniting to fight this grave evil. Most believe that the reelection of Obama and his party will spell the end of America and that unlike other elections that can repair harms caused by incompetence as with Carter, here it is incomeptence driven by a distorted moral viewpoint and a bitter hatred of America that was established by our founding fathers and that was the envy of the world for 150 years or more. I find it amusing that many in the dark purple states cannot seem to understand these core beliefs and values that unite many Americans across this great land. We have been battered for our core religious values, core belief in the Constitution as written, and that all our rights come from our Creator, not big government. We are tired of the overreaching rederal government and courts telling us what light bulbs we can buy, how much water our toilet is allow to flush, and that we cannot have prayer and all the rich history of our country built around those religious values taught in our schools. We are sick of 50% of the people paying income tax and 50% of the people on government checks and the fact that those getting benefits and paying no income tax can vote themselves new benefits without a care on the cost. We do not believe that everytime there is a question, big government and higher taxes are the answer. We are tired of a government media propoganda machine attached to the Democratic party and that it permits that party to lie every time they open their mouth. I think many will sit with their mouth open again when the election results come back in totally rejecting the Demcrats by overwhelming numbers. They are being lulled to sleep by the low turnout between republican candiates. None have excited the party to go to vote. that changes when we can go vote against Obama and his party for most of us do not care who wins the primary to a major extent. Most believe that donald duck would be a massive improvement over Obama and thus this election is about one thing. Do we want four more years of Obama and Democrats. Many of us have talked with many former democrats who say this administration was the last straw. So while many in the deep purple states joke around about the poor republican party, or wonder about how evangelicals like Santorum, a Catholic, they are in for a shock in November.

  2. I think it’s a good thing. Anything that breaks down that protestant animosity toward catholics is good. Once that cultural animosity breaks down, then they can evaluate the Catholic Church’s positions objectively, and I suspect many more will come home.

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