Ask ten people to name the most critical swing voting bloc in the 2012 presidential election and you’re likely to get at least five — and maybe ten — different answers.

But, new polling from Gallup suggests that it’s Catholics who could well be the best bellwether of whether President Obama or former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney will be elected president this November.

Pope Benedict XVI greets the faithful during the weekly general audience in St. Peter's square at the Vatican, Wednesday, April 25, 2012. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

It’s not just this presidential election where the Catholic vote serves as a leading indicator of the national vote.

In the five presidential races prior to this one, the candidate who carried the Catholic vote won four of them. The lone exception was in 2000 when then Vice President Al Gore won the Catholic vote by two points (and the popular vote by .5 percent) but lost the presidency to then Texas Gov. George W. Bush.

In fact, in the last two presidential contests the Catholic vote has tracked almost exactly with the popular vote. In 2008, President Obama carried Catholics by nine points and beat Arizona Sen. John McCain (R) by seven points nationally. Four years earlier, Bush won the Catholic vote by five points and beat Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry (D) by three points nationwide.

(It’s not just presidential elections where Catholics have been a key swing bloc. In the 2006 midterms when Democrats made huge congressional gains, the party won Catholics by 11 points. In 2010, when Republicans re-took the House, Catholics voted for GOP candidates by 10 points.)

In each of the past five presidential elections, Catholics have comprised somewhere between 26 percent and 29 percent of the overall electorate. (Catholics were 27 percent of the electorate in both 2004 and 2008.)

As Gallup’s Frank Newport notes in a memo on the findings, Catholics have historically been a Democratic-leaning constituency — the party can thank John F. Kennedy for that one — but in recent decades have become more of a toss-up voting bloc.

The eight presidential elections reveal how up for grabs Catholics truly. The Republican nominee has carried Catholics four times, the Democratic nominee has carried Catholics four times. With the exception of Bill Clinton, who beat Bob Dole among Catholics by 16 points, no candidate has had a winning margin among that group.

Keep an eye on the Catholic vote between now and November. How it goes will tell you a lot about who is going to be the next president.

Hatch a Romney ‘special adviser’: Mitt Romney has asked Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) to serve as a special policy adviser.

“I’m going to need his leadership in the Senate when we take back the White House,” Romney said in a statement sent out by Hatch’s reelection campaign. The six-term senator faces former state Sen. Dan Liljenquist in a primary.

This announcement might have more to do with that primary than with Romney; Hatch has been an informal Romney adviser since 2008.

Bachmann to back Romney: After months of hesi­ta­tion, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) will formally endorse Romney today, according to various news reports.

While her star power is not what it was last summer, Bachmann has close ties to the tea party, and her decision could help Romney win over skeptical conservatives.

Asked last week why she hadn’t backed Romney yet, Bachmann told CNN she was working “behind the scenes, bringing together all factions of our party.”


Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren (D) talks about “high cheekbones” and Native American heritage.

Former Sen. George LeMieux is at odds with Sen. Marco Rubio and other Florida Republicans on Gulf cleanup legislation.

The Republican National Committee’s new anti-Obama message: not ”Hope & Change” but “Hype & Blame.” Meanwhile, Romney is mocking “Forward.”

Romney is starting to shift to the center.

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Romney storytelling short on voter-connecting details - John McCormick, Bloomberg