Trying to Get Christian Music Fans to Tune To the Left

Burns Strider is working with a major Christian music promoter to connect fans with Democratic candidates.
Burns Strider is working with a major Christian music promoter to connect fans with Democratic candidates. (By Peter Sachs -- Religion News Service)
  Enlarge Photo    
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 19, 2008; Page C01

Fans of Christian music, listeners to Christian radio, watchers of Christian TV -- you're very attractive, did you know that?

After years of living in a quiet, monogamous relationship with the Republican Party, you are being courted by the Democrats. These leftie operatives say it's not enough to be the de facto political party of Hollywood, with its nudity and violence. Now Barack Obama's supporters have a new frontier in their sights: Nashville.

In addition to being the home of country music, Nashville has long been the literal and metaphoric capital of the gospel and contemporary Christian music industries, as well as a hot spot for Christian radio and TV. This, industry folks say, is a land populated by GOP-voting listeners.

Sure, anyone who's been paying attention knows the Democrats have ramped up their outreach to religious voters in the past few years, but a concerted effort to reach into Christian Medialand has intensified recently and will continue beyond the November election.

We're talking rallies against global warming and capital punishment, at Christian music concerts. Obama ads on Christian radio. Consumers of gospel music getting bombarded with campaign literature from Democratic candidates.

That means the good people of Ohio will be peacefully listening to a radio preaching out of the Book of Revelation when suddenly -- " J esus said, inasmuch as you did unto the least of these, you have done it to me" . . . calming instrumental music in the background . . . "As a Christian," says pro-life Democrat and former Ohio congressman Tony Hall, "Barack believes God calls us to care for those in need . . . "

That's a new radio ad scheduled to air on Christian radio in Ohio next week.

"We have people calling every Christian radio station; we want to know about their newsroom, what news services they use, how can we communicate with them. Oftentimes, they'll say we are the first Democrats to ever call," drawls Burns Strider, a Mississippi native who led faith outreach for Hillary Clinton. Strider launched a partnership this summer with Rick Hendrix, a major Christian music promoter, to connect Christian music fans with Democratic candidates. At any given time, listeners to Christian talk and music radio make up about 2.7 percent of all listeners, according to Arbitron.

While consumers of Christian entertainment are predominantly conservative, those in the business long have been more politically diverse than listeners realize.

"I think it would be shocking to a lot of people if you interviewed Christian artists, the split would be pretty even" between Republicans and Democrats, says Grant Hubbard, vice president of promotion for EMI Christian Music Group, one of the biggest labels. "The consumer, on the other hand, is about 80-20."

The biggest evangelist for Democrats is Hendrix, a 38-year-old schmoozy North Carolinian who was behind the marketing of religious blockbuster "The Passion of the Christ." Despite being a player in the Christian Media Kingdom, he thought -- until recently -- that he had to stay in the political closet.

Until Hillary Clinton.

CONTINUED     1           >

© 2008 The Washington Post Company