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His focused effort to target a group that had heavily favored Republicans paid off, an exit poll shows.

As he vaulted into national acclaim with his 2004 Democratic convention speech, Barack Obama directly took on the assumption that his party should cede religious voters to the Republicans.

“We worship an awesome God in the blue states,” he said, pointedly adopting words from a song familiar to churchgoers, particularly younger ones.

The four-year effort by Obama, who is Christian, to narrow the gap between Democratic and Republican support among religious voters paid off last week when he won the race for the White House.

Exit polls showed the dramatic effect: Obama won 43% of voters who said they attend church weekly, eight percentage points higher than 2004 Democratic nominee John F. Kerry. Among occasional worshipers, Obama won 57%, 11 percentage points higher than Kerry, according to the National Election Pool exit survey.

When looking at how members of different faiths voted, the movement among Catholics is striking. They sided 52% to 47% with President Bush in 2004. But this year, they went 54% to 45% for Obama. That means Obama had more support among Catholics than did Kerry, himself a Catholic, by seven percentage points.

“Obama did better than Kerry among pretty much every religious group,” said Greg Smith, a research fellow at the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life who analyzed the poll results.

Even among voters who describe themselves as born-again Christians or evangelicals, a group that tends to vote Republican, Obama improved on Kerry’s standing — although he came in a distant second to GOP nominee John McCain. Kerry had won 21% of evangelical voters; Obama won 26%.

The shift by religious voters may have resulted partly from changes in the electorate — voter participation by blacks and Latinos grew, and both groups tend to be regular churchgoers. Yet there is no doubt that secular voters were more supportive of Obama than religious ones, according to the exit poll.

The Obama campaign, however, made sure to court religious voters and took advantage of his connections to influential Christian leaders.

Nearly two years ago, when voters knew little about him, the Illinois senator stood alongside nationally known author and Pastor Rick Warren at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest for a televised AIDS conference. Earlier, Obama had asked Warren to review a chapter of his book “The Audacity of Hope.”

Obama again gained the attention of Christian voters in July when he pledged to expand a controversial White House program to give federal grants to churches and small community groups. The proposal, which would build on efforts by the Bush administration to direct government money to church groups, was announced in Zanesville, Ohio, a hotly contested state that Obama won on election day.

And at the Democratic National Convention in August, which held its first-ever interfaith prayer gathering, the party platform endorsed by Obama — while not backing away from its support for abortion rights — emphatically reached out to women with children who rely on programs meant to ease their struggle.

Obama’s ease in talking about his religion also helped him win over religious voters. During a presidential forum held in August at Saddleback Church, where he and McCain were interviewed separately by church leader Warren, Obama spoke about “walking humbly with our God” and quoted from the Gospel of Matthew. His acceptance speech Tuesday night echoed in parts the church-inspired speeches of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

“He uses the faith language very well,” said Clyde Wilcox, a Georgetown University professor of government who has studied the subject. And that, he said, inspired trust.

“How do you know whether to trust him or not?” Wilcox said. “If you are a deeply religious person, you want to see that he has a grounding. That authenticity is really important. It reassures people.”

Religion, for a time, became a thorn for Obama during the presidential race. He was harshly criticized for his association with the now-retired Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., whose incendiary sermons about white America caused an uproar and led Obama to part ways with his longtime pastor, and endured a viral e-mail campaign falsely asserting that he is Muslim.

But “there was a broad recognition that he was a sincerely religious man,” Wilcox said of Obama. “And I think that did come through.”

The Obama campaign reached out to evangelicals and other religious communities, aware of the opportunity to peel away some voters.

Douglas W. Kmiec, a Pepperdine law professor, caused a stir last spring when he publicly endorsed Obama. One month later, at a Catholic Mass to which he was invited, Kmiec was denounced from the pulpit and denied communion because of his endorsement.

Kmiec said that although Obama’s support for abortion rights contradicts official Catholic doctrine, his broader approach aligns well with the church’s beliefs on issues such as the economy, healthcare and the environment.

“I was attracted out of my Republican-ness to Sen. Obama’s side largely because I could hear, in the way he was articulating economic issues and social issues, the social gospel of the Catholic Church,” Kmiec said.

From September through election day, Kmiec traveled to key states including Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania, meeting with groups of people at churches on Obama’s behalf. The election’s focus on the economy was “providential,” Kmiec said. Without the usual single-issue debate about abortion rights among Christian voters, the Obama campaign had the opportunity to make its case on other fronts.

“It moderated, it seemed to me, the amount of time that was devoted to these divisive conversations,” he said.

The election results returned Catholics to their historical Democratic moorings, which many had fled for the GOP during the Reagan years.

“That is opening a door that had been closed for a while,” Kmiec said. But whether it stays open may be determined by whether Obama’s actions match what he promised — and also by what larger political environment defines the 2012 presidential race.

“At some level, if he’s a good president, that will affect evangelicals and non-evangelicals, Catholics,” said Wilcox of Georgetown University. It is too soon, he said, to know whether Obama’s improvements among religious voters indicate a new alignment for Democrats, or were simply a verdict on the 2008 candidates.

“I would want to see this over time,” Wilcox said.

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McCain enjoyed the ride as his crowds became angrier and angrier – now that it has reflected badly on him he tries to calm them – after dehumanizing Obama (with phrases like ‘that one’ and implying the man is a terrorist) – McCain met with opposition and booing – as he tried to save face and turn the rage he generated around. To win McCain has chosen a populist route – one which taps into the worst of people’s nature – and the racist, bigoted elements are coming forward; while Palin – who seems will literally say anything – doesn’t mind and I am sure – is grateful for the attention – John McCain knows better.

LAKEVILLE, Minn. — After a week of trying to portray Senator Barack Obama as a friend of terrorists who would drive the country into bankruptcy, Senator John McCain abruptly changed his tone on Friday and told voters at a town-hall-style meeting that Mr. Obama was “a decent person” and a “family man” and suggested that he would be an acceptable president should he win the White House.

But moments later, Mr. McCain, the Republican nominee, renewed his attacks on Mr. Obama for his association with the 1960s radical William Ayers and told the crowd, “Mr. Obama’s political career was launched in Mr. Ayers’ living room.”

Mr. Obama was “a decent person” and a “family man”

The dizzying statements came on a confused day when Mr. McCain’s campaign pounded Mr. Obama as a “liar” in an incendiary television commercial about Mr. Ayers and as Mr. McCain abruptly announced another economic policy proposal, this time a plan to suspend mandatory withdrawals from 401(k) retirement accounts.

The events reflected Mr. McCain’s frequently lurching campaign. For the past several weeks, as the polls have shown Mr. Obama, the Democratic nominee, gaining increasing ground, Mr. McCain’s traveling road show has veered from message to message and from pumping up hostile crowds to trying to calm them down. Each news cycle seem to bring another tactic as the campaign appears to be trying anything and everything to see what might work.

The crowd booed loudly at Mr. McCain’s response.

His temporary embrace of Mr. Obama came as Mr. McCain was repeatedly implored by voters at the town-hall-style meeting to “fight back” against Mr. Obama at the next presidential debate, on Wednesday, and to stop him from becoming president. But unlike at an earlier town-hall-style meeting this week in Wisconsin, where Mr. McCain sharply agreed with voters who urged him to punch back, this time he drew a line.

When a man told him he was “scared” of an Obama presidency, Mr. McCain replied, “I want to be president of the United States and obviously I do not want Senator Obama to be, but I have to tell you — I have to tell you — he is a decent person and a person that you do not have to be scared of as president of the United States.” The crowd booed loudly at Mr. McCain’s response.

Later, a woman stood up at the meeting, held at Lakeville South High School in a far suburb of Minneapolis, and told Mr. McCain that she could not trust Mr. Obama because he was an “Arab.”

Mr. McCain replied: “No, ma’am, he’s a decent family man, a citizen, who I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues. And that’s what this campaign is all about.” At that, the crowd applauded.

Mr. McCain and his campaign have been harshly criticized this week by Mr. Obama, Democrats, some Republicans and a number of columnists, commentators and editorial writers for stoking angry crowds at rallies, particularly those in which Mr. McCain appears with his running mate, Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska.

Crowds in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania have repeatedly booed Mr. Obama and yelled “off with his head,” and at a rally in Florida where Ms. Palin appeared without Mr. McCain, The Washington Post reported that a man yelled out “kill him.” At the same rally, a racial insult was hurled at an African-American television cameraman.

Representative Elijah E. Cummings, a Maryland Democrat, said Friday in an interview that he was surprised that neither Mr. McCain nor Ms. Palin had reacted, either by chastising audience members or discussing the events later. “It concerns me greatly when people come to the point where they take a political race, a race for president, and holler out words like ‘kill him,’ ” he said. “I just think our country is so much better than that.”

At the same time, Mr. McCain’s advisers sought to minimize the impact of those images of angry voters that have repeatedly been broadcast on television in the last two days.

“I don’t think it’s that big a deal,” Rick Davis, Mr. McCain’s campaign manager, told reporters in a conference call on Friday. “I think political rallies have always attracted people who have an emotional connection to the outcome of an election.”

“It concerns me greatly when people come to the point where they take a political race, a race for president, and holler out words like ‘kill him,’ ” he said. “I just think our country is so much better than that.”

Nicolle Wallace, one of Mr. McCain’s senior aides, tried to turn the tables on Mr. Obama on Friday and accuse him of denigrating the people who go to Mr. McCain and Ms. Palin’s rallies. “Broadsides against our supporters are insulting,” she said. “He attacks the same people he once called bitter.”

Within the campaign, there is a difference of opinion on the attacks, and some of Mr. McCain’s closest advisers have felt he should also criticize Mr. Obama for his ties to his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. But they say Mr. McCain believes that if he does so, he will be accused of racism.

“I personally believe that Jeremiah Wright is a legitimate issue to bring up,” one of Mr. McCain’s top advisers said. “But the candidate is refusing to do that out of an abundance of caution.”

Mr. McCain appeared far more cheerful and relaxed at the town-hall-style meeting in Lakeville than he has at any other recent campaign event. He smiled broadly, laughed easily and told a number of well-worn jokes from similar forums of a year ago. He kept the event going for more than an hour, even after his aides said it was time to bring it to a close.

But although the crowd was not as large and angry as previous crowds — Ms. Palin appears to attract greater numbers of frustrated voters — Mr. McCain at numerous points had to try to tone down the intensity.

At one point, after a voter told him he wanted to see a “real fight” at the debate and the crowd responded with a roar, Mr. McCain replied, “We want to fight, and I will fight, but we will be respectful.”

Then he added, “I admire Senator Obama and his accomplishments, I will respect him.” The crowd interrupted Mr. McCain to boo, but he kept talking. “I want everyone to be respectful and let’s make sure we are, because that’s the way politics — —”

At that point, Mr. McCain was drowned out by applause.

Source: NYT

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