THE BLOG

Catholics Swing Both Ways

02/11/2008 03:32 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Karl Rove and Deal Hudson plotted to win over the Catholic Vote by highlighting anti-abortion and anti-gay positions as the key elements of their election strategy in 2004.

George Bush called the plans a "No Brainer" in a private meeting, according to pre-publication galleys of Hudson's new book, Onward Christian Soldiers, exclusively obtained by Huffington Post.

Deal Hudson, Bush's Catholic outreach advisor, strongly repositioned the Republican Party as strongly anti-abortion and anti-gay to specifically win over Catholic swing voters, according to the to-be-published book. Many of these blue-collar voters had previously been attracted to the Democratic Party's compassionate tradition.

Abortion was conceived as the wedge issue to compel previously liberal Catholics to join with Evangelicals, a group with whom they had past substantial differences.

Rove, Hudson and Bush were spectacularly and surprisingly successful in the 2004, presidential election against a Catholic Democratic Party nominee, John Kerry.

Ironically, the married, pro-family Hudson was found to have had an earlier affair with a troubled 18-year-old Fordham coed, who sought his spiritual counseling. Hudson was teaching at the Jesuit institution and the public scandal forced him to resign from the Bush reelection effort in August 2004. But his pro family political strategies prevailed spectacularly a few months later.

Some background.

For most of the 20th Century, American Catholics, a 64 million strong demographic, were reliable Democratic voters attracted by their working class status and compassion for the poor.

But since 1972, Catholics began to swing both ways and ended up supporting the popular vote winner in every Presidential election in the last 32 years.

Most demographic groups do not generally vote for the presidential winner. Blacks and Jews always support Democrats, white Protestants and Evangelicals support Republicans, and Union members vote Democratic.

It certainly seems fair to say, since Catholics support the winning presidential candidate more than other groups, -- how they vote determines who the winner will be.

For example, Catholics swung more than the national average between 1972 (Nixon) and 1976 (when Jimmy Carter won the Presidency). The Republican share of the vote dropped 13 %, while the Catholic share dropped by 18%. The Catholic shift was 5% points higher than the general shift, according to George Marlin's, The American Catholic Voter: Two Hundred Years of Political Impact.

In 1980, when Reagan won, Republicans gained 3% overall while they gained 7% among Catholic voters.

From 2000 to 2004, Bush's margin among Catholics was greater than his increase among all voters in Ohio, Florida, Colorado and New Jersey (in 2000 Gore, of course, won the Catholic vote and the general vote, but for some reason was not elected President).

Catholics that go to Mass regularly vote Republican, while those who go irregularly vote Democratic, a voting pattern similar to church goers and church skippers in general.

In the recent primaries in California, Catholic voters supported Clinton over Obama by a 2-1 margin. In Florida, 63% of Catholics voted for Hillary over Obama.

The white working class, blue-collar vote will be pivotal in some critical upcoming major primaries in Ohio, Texas, Rhode Island, and Pennsylvania.

If Obama can win this Reagan blue-collar, Catholic constituency, which Clinton has been winning, then he will have a clear shot at the nomination and the tealeaves will bode well for the general election.

If Obama fails to win this key swing vote, Democratic insiders will be worried. This blue-collar vote may well go to McCain, who has been doing well with Catholics during the Republican primaries. McCain's compassionate stance on immigration may turn out to be a real boon for Republicans.

The Republicans will again trot out Rove-Hudson anti-abortion, anti-gay issues to whip Catholics into line. But many Democrats have learned to fight back.

The Democrats were able to capture the Catholic vote in the 2006 midterm elections. Catholics favored Democrats by 55 % to 45 %. This is a 7% point loss for the Republicans in sharp contrast to 2004 when Republicans got 52 % versus 47 % for the Democratic vote.

Ray Flynn, the former Democratic mayor of Boston who endorsed Bush in 2000, sees the Catholic voter returning to the Democratic fold. The moral issues of the war in Iraq and the economy are becoming more important. "Right now... the Reagan Democrat, they're going Democrat. Health care, education, human rights - these issues are so compelling in this election," said Mr. Flynn.

jfleetwood@aol.com