D.C. pastor Rev. Derrick Harkins was named Thursday to head faith outreach for the Democratic National Committee, putting him at the helm of messaging about religion as the presidential campaign gets into more full swing.
Picking Harkins, 52, senior pastor at the Nineteenth Street Baptist Church and a prominent African-American evangelical activist, reflects the White House’s desire to shore up support and turnout among black voters and to woo more aggressively white evangelicals, who have voted overwhelmingly Republican for decades and who made up nearly a quarter of voters in 2008.
Obama made some inroads with more conservative white Christian voters, particularly young evangelicals and some Catholics. Polls show evangelical voters more disenchanted with the president, and some experts predict Democratic outreach to them will be more aggressive than it was in 2008.
Harkins, who has been pastor at Nineteenth Street Baptist for 14 years, is very active in different spheres of the faith world. He sits on the board of the progressive Faith and Public Life as well as the mainstream National Association of Evangelicals.
The president and his family have worshipped at Harkins’s church several times, including right before the inauguration.
“My intent is to engage and reach out to people of faith from all walks of life and backgrounds and to make sure that [the party] understands the issues and values that religious Americans are passionate about,” Harkins said in a brief interview after he learned that he had the job.
Harkins said he didn’t plan to step down from his pulpit. “I plan to do both. I am realigning my responsibilities,” he said.
Harkins received a Master’s of Divinity from Union Theological Seminary in New York and a Doctorate of Ministry from United Theological Seminary in Dayton.
This story has been updated.