Former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating, along with U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., chairs Catholics for McCain, a Washington, D.C.-based lobbying and grassroots-organizing group. According to Keating, approximately one in four voters in the November election will be Catholic, and that number makes for a huge voting bloc, especially in battleground states like Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio.
Unlike other large religious groups, the Catholic vote has traditionally been split between Republicans and Democrats. Polling data from Georgetown University's Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate indicates that the number of independent Catholics is up to 41 percent this year, an 11 percent increase since the 2004 election. Keating's group is making a concerted effort to reach that large bloc of undecided and independent voters.
"There are many different Catholic groups," Keating said. "Traditionally, German Catholics in Pennsylvania and Cuban Catholics in Florida have been Republican voters. Hispanic American Catholics and Irish Catholics have tended toward the Democratic Party. One of the growing segments within American Catholicism is the Asian-American Catholic group. They are solidly Republican."
'BEDROCK MORAL ISSUES'
Keating cited the Catholic Church's "bedrock moral issues" as to why Catholics should vote for Sen. John McCain. "The Catholic Church has always been pro-life," he said. "The moral issues are respect for life, traditional marriage and social responsibility for the less fortunate, but the cornerstone is the pro-life agenda."
Abortion has not been a prominent issue in the campaigns up to this point, but the selection of Gov. Sarah Palin, a staunch pro-life advocate, as McCain's running mate may bring about a change in the debate.
Lorrie Lewis, an Oklahoma City attorney and pro-choice Catholic, is going to vote for Sen. Barack Obama primarily because of his stance on social issues, including a woman's right to choose.
"I find the Obama/Biden platform more in line with my Catholic faith," Lewis said. "Care for the poor, access to health care, economic justice " all these issues are part of Catholic social teaching."
The division between Catholics has historically come down to this dilemma: Does the social or the moral teaching taking precedence when voting? Lewis has chosen the social side, although she is not in favor of abortion.
"I can't imagine any scenario where a person is pro-abortion," Lewis said. "I am in favor of a woman's right to decide what to do about her pregnancy. I understand that the Catholic Church says abortion is morally wrong, but one of the things I like about being Catholic is the emphasis on the guidance of individual conscience. That makes abortion an issue between a woman and her God."
SOCIAL JUSTICE OUTREACH
Sen. Joe Biden has been reaching out to pro-choice, social justice Catholics at all of his campaign stops, including a recent appearance on "Meet the Press." His remarks about abortion on that program drew a response from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).
Biden attempted to draw a line between personal or religious morality and public policy. Admitting that he believes life begins at conception, Biden went on to say that people's views on the beginning of life are "personal and private" and should not be "imposed" upon others.
On Sept. 9, following Biden's appearance on "Meet the Press", the USCCB released a statement that addressed Biden's pro-choice language. "Those who hold a narrower and more exclusionary view (on the beginning of human life) have the burden of explaining why we should divide humanity into those who have moral value and those who do not and why their particular choice of where to draw that line can be sustained in a pluralistic society ... While in past centuries biological knowledge was often inaccurate, modern science leaves no excuse for anyone to deny the humanity of the unborn child. Protection of innocent human life is not an imposition of personal religious conviction but a demand of justice."
Keating said he believes Catholics in Oklahoma will be solid McCain supporters because they believe Catholic Church teaching about abortion and other moral issues. "In Oklahoma, the Catholic community is solidly, though not exclusively, pro-life and pro-traditional marriage," he said. "Our forecast numbers indicate that Oklahoma will be solidly McCain."
CATHOLICS FOR CHOICE
Jon O'Brien, president of Catholics for Choice, a Washington, D.C. lobbying group, disagrees about the priorities Catholics place on the church's moral teaching in elections. Using polling data from Belden Russonello & Stewart, O'Brien concluded: "Catholics are in a very different place than their bishops when it comes to embryonic stem-cell research and abortion. For example, a large majority (69 percent) of likely Catholic voters support embryonic stem-cell research. In addition, six in 10 support keeping abortion legal (58 percent) and seven in 10 (69 percent) say they feel no obligation to vote against candidates who support abortion."
Lewis falls within those numbers, and she has positions not covered by any of the polling data. "I'm also voting for Obama because I really do want change," she said. "If you're pro-life, how can you be supportive of the war in Iraq? And if you support women's issues, how can you not be angered by McCain's choice of Palin?" "Greg Horton