Newsflash: Religion doesn’t really matter in politics. This tidbit comes from an unlikely source, the people who work to mobilize faith communities for the Obama and Romney campaigns.
Even if it flies in the face of all research, this argument isn’t new to the religion reporters who heard it during a politics and religion panel on Friday. That’s because we’ve been largely shut out for many months in our efforts to get the campaigns to open access to their organized faith outreach – where they go, who they talk with, what their strategy is.
Both campaigns had people on a panel at the annual Religion Newswriters Association’s annual conference in suburban D.C. to discuss the campaigns’ efforts to reach various faith communities and to deal with faith-related issues that come up. Even as people on both sides said they were extremely busy in their positions, they said religion didn’t really have much of a place in politics.
“I don’t view myself as having job of speaking about my candidate’s faith. I’m speaking about his candidacy for the office of the presidency,” said Mark DeMoss, an evangelical communications executive who advises the Romney campaign on a volunteer basis. “I don’t go around talking about his faith. I talk about him.”
Michael Wear, national faith vote coordinator for the Obama campaign, said “I don’t feel it’s my responsibility and the president certainly doesn’t feel it’s his responsibility to convince anyone of his faith.”
The campaign advisers told journalists that the focus is the economy, even when it comes to the faith team. For the Democrats, a key faith proxy have been a group of Catholic nuns who have launched visible trips on buses and ferries to put an ethical stamp on the president’s economic vision. For the Republicans, that’s included well-known Christian conservative activist Ralph Reed and his plan to urge religious conservatives to support tax cuts.
There’s no question religion is a risky area for both candidates. Obama saw his campaign four years ago nearly swallowed by debate about his longtime pastor, Jeremiah Wright. Millions of Americans still incorrectly believe he’s Muslim. Romney knows many Americans are unfamiliar with the Mormon faith.
Will faith outreach seem so irrelevant four years from now with potentially two different candidates?