U.S. Senate

Sen. Kamala Harris begins White House campaign: Maybe her 'Knights of Columbus' views are relevant?

Sen. Kamala Harris begins White House campaign: Maybe her 'Knights of Columbus' views are relevant?

There’s quite a bit of mythology surrounding the term “Catholic vote,” whenever journalists discuss American politics.

First of all, there’s no such thing as a typical American “Catholic voter.” At the very least, journalists have to probe the sharp divisions between “cultural” Catholics and those who attend Mass on a regular basis.

In the past, I have shared a “Catholic voters” typology that I learned from an elderly priest who had decades of experience in Washington, D.C. I have edited this a bit:

* Ex-Catholics. Solid for Democrats. Cultural conservatives have no chance.

* Cultural Catholics who go to church a few times a year. This may be an "undecided voters" niche, depending on the economy, foreign policy issues, etc. Leans to Democrats.

* Sunday-morning American Catholics. Regulars in the pew and they may fill some parish leadership roles. This is the key “Catholic,” swing voter candidates are chasing.

* “Sweats the details" Catholics who go to confession, are active in full sacramental life of the church and back Catechism on matters of faith and practice. This is a small slice of “Catholic voters.” Solid for GOP.

All of this matters because Catholics, of one kind or another, are 21 percent of the U.S. population and their votes are crucial in swing states such as Ohio and Florida. In the past, Catholics were a crucial part of coalitions that led the Democratic Party.

This brings us to a Washington Post political-desk report about Sen. Kamala Harris throwing her hat into the already crowded field of Democrats seeking their party’s presidential nomination. The headline: “Sen. Kamala Harris formally opens her presidential campaign with a mix of unity and blunt talk about race.”

This is one of those stories in which it is hard to discuss its religion-news contents, because the story contains a large religion-shaped hole, one of special interest to many Catholics. In particular, it is interesting that the story does not contain these words — “Knights of Columbus.” Hold that thought:

OAKLAND, Calif. — Sen. Kamala D. Harris on Sunday formally announced her presidential campaign, merging lofty and unifying lines aimed at a restive Democratic electorate with a blunt discussion of racism, police shootings and the impact of police brutality.

Harris announced on Monday, the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, that she would seek the presidency. Her appearance in her hometown on Sunday was the ceremonial start, and it became the highest-profile address yet by any presidential candidate.

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Ballot-box religion ghost for 2018? U.S. Senate races plus Supreme Court heat equals ...

Ballot-box religion ghost for 2018? U.S. Senate races plus Supreme Court heat equals ...

Surely it says something about the current state of American politics and religion when the organization Democrats For Life sends out a press release celebrating the election of one — count ‘em, one — new pro-life member of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Just a reminder: I have stated many times that I was a pro-life and registered Democrat my whole adult life — until the 2016 White House race. I am now a registered member of a tiny (in America) third party that’s progressive on economic issues and conservative on cultural issues (other than being old-school liberal on the First Amendment).

But back to that release from Democrats For Life, celebrating a win in the rather unique political environment of Utah:

ANOTHER PRO-LIFE DEMOCRAT

A bright spot this election cycle is the election of Ben McAdams in Utah’s 4th Congressional District. Twice elected the mayor of Salt Lake County, McAdams may be the kind of Democrat we need. He has a history of bringing people together to provide solutions.

On his campaign website, he stressed his bipartisan cooperation.

”Ben worked with both sides of the aisle in the Utah Legislature and as Salt Lake County mayor to balance the budget and act on important initiatives. He will continue to work with colleagues in both parties to overcome Washington’s broken politics and put Utah families first. He has proven bringing people together helps to solve tough problems like homelessness and criminal justice reform....”

Meanwhile, a member of an even more endangered political species — a pro-life Democrat incumbent in the U.S. Senate — lost his seat. If you followed the race carefully, it was obvious that Sen. Joe Donnelly had trouble separating himself from those “other” Democrats” during the firestorm surrounding U.S. Supreme Court nominee, and now justice, Brett Kavanaugh.

This brings me to the main theme in this week’s “Crossroads” podcast, which focused on the rare glimpses of religion during the mainstream news coverage of the 2018 Midterm elections. Click here to tune that in, or head over to iTunes to subscribe.

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Democrats after The Kiss: Did new left let enough 'blue dogs' run in 2018 midterms?

Democrats after The Kiss: Did new left let enough 'blue dogs' run in 2018 midterms?

So what does the famous Al and Tipper Gore snog-deluxe at the 2000 Democratic National Convention have to do with the upcoming midterm elections in 2018? And what does that question have to do with the Big Bang question that is always lurking in American politics, which is control of the U.S. Supreme Court?

Be patient with me here, because I can see the connections in my mind (and in my own political experience over recent decades). But I’m not sure if I can get them to make sense in 600 words or so. But that’s what I need to do, since these questions are connected to the content of this week’s “Crossroads” podcast. Click here to tune that in.

So let’s start with The Kiss.

Long ago, young Al Gore was one of the heroes of conservative Democrats everywhere — as in “blue dog” Democrats that lean left on populist economic issues and lean right on matters of morality and culture. In other words, Gore was a pro-life Southern Baptist guy when he was in the U.S. House of Representatives and an almost-pro-life guy when he first hit the U.S. Senate.

That made him the kind of Democrat that could get elected over and over in a culturally conservative state — think Bible Belt — like Tennessee. That was good for Democrats. Hold that thought.

But when Gore took his ambitions to the national level, the realities of Democratic Party life made him float over to the liberal side of things on issues such as abortion and the illiberal side of things on issues like religious liberty (I say that as on old-fashioned First Amendment liberal).

In terms of image, however, he made a great New Democrat partner for President Bill Clinton, who once flirted — in politics, that is — with conservative moral stances on a host of issues.

But then Clinton turned into a whole different kind of man in the public eye. To say the least.

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Will white evangelical women push Ted Cruz challenger Beto O'Rourke over the top? Not so fast

Will white evangelical women push Ted Cruz challenger Beto O'Rourke over the top? Not so fast

My baby sister, Christy, is a conservative Christian and a registered Republican in Texas. She never has voted for a Democrat (she insists her vote for Donald Trump in the 2016 general election actually was a vote against Hillary Clinton).

However, Christy, who is in her mid-40s, told me she’s torn on the high-profile U.S. Senate race between incumbent Republican Ted Cruz and Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke.

“I can’t support Beto because he’s pro-choice, and I just think Cruz is a liar,” my sister said in a text message.

I thought about Christy this week as I read a New York Times story from Dallas on some white evangelical women — who have supported anti-abortion candidates in the past — putting their support behind O’Rourke:

DALLAS — After church on a recent Sunday, Emily Mooney smiled as she told her girlfriends about her public act of rebellion. She had slapped a “Beto for Senate’’ sticker on her S.U.V. and driven it to her family’s evangelical church. 

But then, across the parking lot, deep in conservative, Bible-belt Texas, she spotted a sign of support: the same exact sticker endorsing Beto O’Rourke, the Democrat who is challenging Senator Ted Cruz.

“I was like, who is it?” she exclaimed. “Who in this church is doing this?”

Listening to Ms. Mooney’s story, the four other evangelical moms standing around a kitchen island began to buzz with excitement. All of them go to similarly conservative churches in Dallas. All are longtime Republican voters, solely because they oppose abortion rights. Only one broke ranks to vote for Hillary Clinton in 2016. But this November, they have all decided to vote for Mr. O’Rourke, the Democratic upstart who is on the front line of trying to upend politics in deep-red Texas. 

In the Senate race, one of the most unexpectedly tight in the nation, any small shift among evangelical voters — long a stable base for Republicans — could be a significant loss for Mr. Cruz, who, like President Trump, has made white evangelicals the bulwark of his support.

If you’re unfamiliar with O’Rourke, he’s a rock star among the national Democratic Party and a favorite of national news media eager to explore whether his candidacy might turn Texas — long a red state — blue:

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That U.S. Senate race in Bible Belt Tennessee: What matters more, Trump or cultural issues?

That U.S. Senate race in Bible Belt Tennessee: What matters more, Trump or cultural issues?

Let’s see. What was going on in America before public discourse went totally bonkers, once again?

Oh, right. The mid-term elections are coming up, with Democrats hoping to win enough seats in the U.S. Senate to put Mike Pence in the White House.

To the shock of just about everyone here in the three cultures of Tennessee (think Memphis, Nashville and Knoxville), this Bible Belt state has a real, live U.S. Senate race on its hands in 2018. This is what happens when Democrats are willing to nominate an old-guard politico who has a track record as an economic centrist, back in the days before religious, moral and cultural issues took complete control of American politics.

On top of that, megastar Taylor Swift has even jumped into the fight, with a blunt endorsement of an old, white guy, saying he is the best way to defend Tennesseans from a female candidate’s conservative beliefs about gender and sexuality.

In other words, it’s absolutely impossible to talk about the Tennessee U.S. Senate race without talking about religion and culture.

So, how did The Washington Post political desk do in its recent feature — “In deep-red Tennessee, Republicans are anxious about the U.S. Senate race“ — on this topic? Here is the overture, with the lede set right here in my back yard:

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Jeanie Brakebill voted for President Trump. But when a conservative canvasser showed up at the 63-year-old’s door here recently, she confided that she had grown tired of Trump’s confrontational brand of politics and was leaning toward voting Democratic in the upcoming midterm election.

“I would vote for Bredesen, to help out Tennessee — even if it means giving Democrats the majority in the Senate,” said Brakebill, referring to Democratic Senate candidate Phil Bredesen.

The sentiments expressed by Brakebill and voters like her have raised fresh worries for Republicans in this deep red state, which overwhelmingly supported Trump in 2016 but where voters remain divided just weeks before a midterm election that could determine which party controls the Senate.

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Thinking politics, and pop culture, on July 4th in this today's tense and wired America

Thinking politics, and pop culture, on July 4th in this today's tense and wired America

Stop and think about the following question: During the upcoming apocalyptic war over the empty U.S. Supreme Court seat, which group of public intellectuals (and I use that term very loosely) will play the larger role shaping public opinion among ordinary Americans?

(a) Scribes who write New York Times editorials.

(b) Law professors at America's Top 10 law schools.

(c) The writers and hosts of late-night comedy/news talks shows.

(d) The latest blasts from America's Tweeter In Chief, who is a former reality TV show star.

Now, if you've been around for a half century or so, you know that politicians have always paid close attention to the satirical offerings of Saturday Night Live and the late Johnny Carson always had way more political influence than he let on. Who was more skilled when visiting a late-night television show during pre-campaign work, former B-movie actor Ronald Reagan or whoever tried to knock him out of the headlines?

The power of pop culture in politics is nothing new -- but it's on the rise.

With that in mind, let's look at a special 4th of July think piece written by DC Beltway think-tank scribe Mark Rodgers, a former high-ranking GOP staffer in the U.S. Senate. He is probably one of the few people I know with U2's Bono in his smartphone favorites list.

The headline, featuring a popular active verb:

Has (Pop)Culture Trumped Politics?

You need a thesis statement? Here it is the overture:

It’s been a long time coming.

Almost 20 years ago, while working on the Hill and hosting a conversation with UVA sociologist James Davison Hunter over lunch, I recall waking up to the growing impact of the popular culture, and its inevitable trajectory to surpass education, family, faith and journalism as the dominant worldview shaping force in 21st century America, and possibly the world.

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Religious left in Alabama: Washington Post settles for analysis of Doug Jones' faith

Religious left in Alabama: Washington Post settles for analysis of Doug Jones' faith

Let's talk about the religion of the U.S. Senate candidate in Alabama.

No, not that candidate.

I'm referring to Doug Jones, the Democrat facing the much-discussed Republican -- Roy Moore -- in Tuesday's election.

The Washington Post's Acts of Faith has an article with an intriguing headline noting that "Roy Moore isn't the only Christian running for Senate in Alabama." The article offers specific details on Jones' faith up high, rather like a news article.

But this is not a news article, even though this is certainly a topic that deserves solid, hard-news coverage. This article is clearly labeled "analysis." A key passage:

Jones belongs to Canterbury United Methodist Church, a 4,000-member congregation in Birmingham’s suburbs. Over the past 33 years, he has been an active participant in Sunday school, even teaching occasionally, and has driven the church bus to bring older members to services.
“It’s fair to say Doug has been a very active Christian,” according to former Birmingham-Southern College president Neal Berte, who first met Jones when he was working at the University of Alabama in the 1970s and attends church with him. “He is a principled leader, but … not in the sense of, ‘You either believe the way I do or there’s no room for you.’”
Through his campaign staff, Jones declined an interview. His spokesman, Sebastian Kitchen, said in a statement: “As a person of deep faith, Doug believes in Christ’s call to minister to all people -- regardless of their background, race, or religion. Unfortunately, Roy Moore instead uses religion to divide people, instead of trying to join together to make progress.”
In an article in the Birmingham News, Jones spoke openly about how his faith commitments drive his professional commitments of justice, fairness and respect.
“I go to church. I’m a Christian. I have as many people of faith that have been reaching out to me about this campaign,” he said. “They want someone who cares about all people, not just a select few. That’s what I think the teachings of religion are, is the caring about the least of these, the caring about all people, and making sure there’s a fairness to everything.”

Good stuff. I'm definitely interested in Jones' faith. Anyone following the Alabama U.S. Senate race should be.

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Here we go again: The question of Roy Moore's solid 'evangelical' support just won't go away

Here we go again: The question of Roy Moore's solid 'evangelical' support just won't go away

"When it comes to Roy Moore, the reality on 'evangelical' opinion is just as complex as ever."

That was the highly appropriate title of a post that GetReligion editor Terry Mattingly wrote just last week.

Here's my question: How soon is too soon to cover much the same ground once again? Is six days enough? (I'm not even counting tmatt's later post on "Sex crimes and sins in the past.")

Based on weekend headlines, it's obvious that journalists are still grappling with where Alabama's conservative Christians stand on Moore. And rightly so -- that is an extremely important angle on this major national political story. In fact, cheering for a massive white evangelical turnout at the polls seems to be the only real strategy that Moore has, right now.

As tmatt noted, the best coverage notes that when it comes to Moore, there is indeed a wide diversity of opinion among evangelicals (if that's even the right term ... more on that label in a moment).

I'm also impressed with coverage that attempts to explain why some people of faith would keep backing Moore even amid mounting sexual misconduct claims against him.

The Associated Press has an analytical piece that hits at many of the key reasons:

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) -- Alabama's Christian conservatives see Roy Moore as their champion. He has battled federal judges and castigated liberals, big government, gun control, Muslims, homosexuality and anything else that doesn't fit the evangelical mold.
The Republican Senate candidate has long stood with them, and now, as he faces accusations of sexual impropriety including the molestation of a 14-year-old girl, they are standing with him.

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How ugly can the Roy Moore story get? That depends on who created 'Bernie Bernstein'

How ugly can the Roy Moore story get? That depends on who created 'Bernie Bernstein'

Deep inside my ancient file cabinets packed with notes from the analog journalism era, there is a folder full of strange letters from readers.

Yes, we're talking pre-email. I still get an actual dead-tree-pulp letter every now and then.

This folder is dedicated to mail that is so strange, so bizarre, that I just can't throw this stuff away. The all-time worst/best latter was an epistle that was about 25 pages long -- typed on a manual typewriter -- describing, in excruciating detail, why biblical prophecies proved that Barbra Streisand is the Antichrist.

That's the first thing I thought about when I read the latest Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction stories out of Alabama. Yes, we're talking about the news coverage of that robocall in which a very non-Southern voice proclaims:

Hi. This is Bernie Bernstein. I’m a reporter for The Washington Post calling to find out if anyone at this address is a female between the ages of 54 to 57 years old, willing to make damaging remarks about candidate Roy Moore for a reward of between $5,000 and $7,000. We will not be fully investigating these claims however we will make a written report.

As you would expect, The Washington Post story on this incident is crucial. It's solid, but -- as a guy who lives in the Bible Belt -- it left me wondering about one element of the story. Hold that thought. Here is the top of the Post report:

A pastor in Alabama said he received a voice mail Tuesday from a man falsely claiming to be a reporter with The Washington Post and seeking women “willing to make damaging remarks” about Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore in exchange for money.
The call came days after The Post reported on allegations that Moore initiated a sexual encounter with a 14-year-old girl nearly four decades ago, sparking calls by leading Republicans for him to abandon his campaign for the U.S. Senate in a special election to be held Dec. 12.
Pastor Al Moore of Creola, Ala., said he received the call on his cellphone a little after 7 a.m. Tuesday from a private number, which he did not answer.

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