Last Night’s Message to the GOP and the Democrats

By: Deal W. Hudson

Dan Gilgoff, at U. S. News & World Report, posed the right question yesterday before the election returns came in. He asked, “Will Today’s Election Results Herald a Christian Right Comeback?”

“Christian Right” doesn’t really describe the religious conservative coalition made up of Catholics, Evangelicals, Mormons, and some Jews and Muslims. But Gilgoff rightly understood that the gubernatorial races in Virginia and New Jersey, District 23 in New York, the same-sex marriage vote in Maine, and the same-sex couple vote in Washington were important tests of residual religious conservative voter clout.

Liberal commentators are fond of announcing the end of religious conservatism. In my book, Onward Christian Soldiers: The Growing Political Power of Catholics and Evangelicals in the United States, I chronicled the attempt of liberal elites to dismiss the influence of religious conservatives — usually at their peril.

Well, there are now pro-life Catholic governors of Virginia and New Jersey. Maine rejected a law that would have allowed same-sex marriage — according to the Associated Press report, same-sex marriage has been rejected in all 31 states where it has been put to a vote.

Liberal elites, of course, include GOP leadership. The story of Doug Hoffman, Conservative Party nominee for NY District 23, is not about his loss to the Democratic nominee, Bill Owens, but the ousting of the uber-liberal Dede Scozzafava a few days before the election. Hoffman would have won if Scozzafava had not spitefully endorsed Owens the day after she withdrew from the race.

It’s important, as well, that the GOP notes the kind of candidates who won in New Jersey and Virginia — pro-life, pro-family, and aligned with religious conservative groups, both Catholic and Evangelical.

Bob McDonnell, the new governor of Virgina, is a bona fide religious conservative among Republicans, and a practicing Catholic who attended Notre Dame and who maintains strong ties to Evangelicals as a result of his Master’s degree from Regent University.

The attempt of his Democratic opponent, Creigh Deeds, to smear McDonnell based upon his Regent’s Master’s thesis not only fell flat, it turned around and bit Deeds.

The new Virginia attorney general, Ken Cuccinelli, has been a Catholic pro-life GOP activist in northern Virginia for many years. His election is the product of Cuccinelli’s decades-long effort of building a religious conservative coalition to back his candidacy. That coalition undoubtedly helped both McDonnell and Bill Bolling, the new Lieutenant Governor.

The election of Republican Chris Christie in New Jersey, a pro-life but moderate candidate (conservative in the context of NJ), will really shake up the Democrats in Congress and the White House. New Jersey, as was said endlessly last night, is a “blue state.”

But what is continually forgotten in states like New Jersey is that it is also Catholic — 42 percent of voters are Catholic. As a result, there will also be a residual attitude of social conservatism that a committed candidate, and party, can depend upon on election day.

This deeply-rooted stratum of social conservatism exists throughout America as a result of the high percentage of religious activism. This is what John McCain refused to address and what the GOP still treats with ambivalence.

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