Predicting ’12 presidential picks

When reporters talk about the 2012 presidential election this early, it can generate the same feeling as when stores start putting up Christmas decorations before Halloween: too soon. It’s as if there aren’t any other major events going on in the world to report on, right?

But if you must go that route, this Newsweek piece actually does a decent job. Earlier I focused on a slideshow that seemed designed to generate hits more than anything else. It’s difficult to measure evangelical leadership, but Newsweek seemed to turn the idea of “who leads the Christian right” into some sort of game instead of an interesting, thoughtful list of potentially influential people. This article draws from the past and asks activists to weigh in on the future.

But what many leaders of the movement want to avoid is a repeat of 2008, when they failed to unite behind a single candidate and ended up diluting their strength. “This time, I think there will be a concerted effort to make sure that doesn’t happen again,” says the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. Midterm election surveys showed that Christian conservatives turned out more strongly this year than in 2006, comprising 32 percent of the electorate, according to a poll by the Faith and Freedom Coalition. Effectively channeled, that enthusiasm could prove potent in 2012.

What I do like about this piece (unlike the slideshow) is that Arian Campo-Flores does some real reporting, talking to several conservative Christian activists (eight are quoted in the article). I don’t necessarily see the data behind each activists’ analysis so you might wonder whether they are projecting their own wish/worry list, but they are probably drawing information from their different constituencies.

The two potential contenders with the most grassroots support are Palin and Huckabee. Palin played a significant role in the recent midterm cycle, triggering surges of buzz and donations every time she tweeted her endorsement of a particular candidate (though her picks had mixed success).

Reporters seem to assume that Sarah Palin would be an obvious choice for evangelicals if she ran, but I haven’t seen much data to confirm or deny that theory. I did note a few days ago that, aside from her relationship with Franklin Graham, it doesn’t look like she has done the same kind of religious outreach that President BarackObama and President George W. Bush did. Now, polls may come out that show that she has strong support (so perhaps she doesn’t need to do much outreach), but I wonder if reporters assume too much.

In the runup to the 2008 election, the field was similarly congested. Worried that the Christian conservative vote would splinter, the Arlington Group — a somewhat secretive coalition of religious-right stalwarts, including Gary Bauer, James Dobson, and the late conservative thinker Paul Weyrich — tried to agree on one candidate before the nominating contests began. … When the effort failed, individual religious leaders went their separate ways. Bauer endorsed John McCain, Dobson endorsed Huckabee, Weyrich endorsed Romney, and so on. The eventual GOP nominee, McCain, “failed miserably in outreach to the evangelical community,” says Rodriguez. Obama wound up capturing significant chunks of the born-again vote, especially among its younger segments.

I wonder where the reporter found his data for the statement “Obama wound up capturing significant chunks of the born-again vote,” because I was under the impression that survey analyses suggested differently.

That’s the thing about this article: it seems to lack data to support various theories. For instance, one candidate might be on Family Research Council Tony Perkins’ wish list but it might not be the same candidate that the Southern Baptist Convention’s Richard Land wants to see run. Their constituencies might overlap, but as the article indicated, we saw some divided opinions during the 2008 election.

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  • Dave

    It may be too early to get hard data on this. If the 2012 race is beyond the electorate’s notoriously short attention span, there may be no data to get. Interviewing conservative Christian leaders is second-best in principle and may be the best available under the circumstances.

  • Julia

    I’m thinking that TMatt needs to do a list of the kinds of Evangelicals that he did for Catholics.