McCain VP Pick Shores Up Christian Right Base
Chip Berlet printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Fri Aug 29, 2008 at 03:20:24 PM EST

With the choice of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate, U.S. Sen. John McCain has demonstrated that his political strategists see the need to shore up support for the Republican Party within the Christian Right voter base. The article the Reverend Katherine Hancock Ragsdale and I wrote for the Progressive Magazine "The Christian Right's Staying Power" suggested this was a possible outcome.

But McCain has not written off the Christian Right as powerless. The same McCain who, in his last bid for the Presidency, labeled various Christian Right leaders as “agents of intolerance” has not only apologized and embraced those leaders (Robertson and the late Falwell), but has accepted the endorsement of one of the worst of the bunch, John Hagee, who infamously called Hurricane Katrina an act of God against New Orleans for sponsoring a gay pride event.
Hagee and McCain later distanced their ties.
Already, the base is reponding. According to a Texas newspaper story here, Texas Republicans cheered the selection of Palin, "saying she has solid social-conservative credentials and that the selection of a woman marks a historic moment for the GOP and a chance to appeal to disgruntled supporters of Hillary Clinton."

"It's a slam dunk" said delegate Cathie Adams, Republican National Committeewoman-elect and president of the Texas Eagle Forum. "I think that people who are concerned about 'How conservative is Mr. McCain' are now going to say, 'If he can make a choice of Sarah Palin, then he can be trusted with our conservative ideals.' "

The Eagle Forum is an affiliate of Phyllis Schlafly's national organization of arch-conservatives.

In our article (July 2008) we argued that "Some have seen McCain’s strength rooted in his ability to appeal as a moderate conservative—one who might attract independent, and even some more conservative, Democratic voters. The embrace of the Hagee endorsement, however, suggests that McCain considers the Christian Right vote more crucial to his success than the independent/moderate vote."

But there were a number of indications that McCain was seeking to woo the Christian Right. Trial balloons suggesting Mitt Romney or Mike Huckabee were top contenders for the VP slot were one indication that the Christian Right needed some attention, given substantial lack of enthusiasm for McCain.

But Romney was coming across as too slick and elitist, and was still being dragged down by antipathy among some Christian evangelicals for his being a Mormon.

Last February, I wrote here: "Huckabee Fails to Keep Southern Evangelical Base United." So while many in the Christian Right voted for Huckabee in those southern primaries, not enough other White evangelicals voted for Huckabee. In other words, Huckabee would scare away too many moderate Republicans and not attract enough of the Christian evangelical base outside the Christian Right. Remember, the Christian Right is only a small portion of the White evangelical electorate, but although it is only 15% of the electorate, it votes overwhelmingly Republican with little change over time. One study found that 40 percent of the total vote for Bush in 2000 came from Christian Evangelicals, making it the largest single voting bloc in the Republican Party. But some White Christian evangelicals are swing voters.

What McCain is attempting to do by selecting Palin is to close the God Gap by solidifying the base of the Republican Party in the Christian Right, while at the same time appealing to a broader base of White Christian evangelicals. And Palin will appear quite mainstream to most moderate Republicans and independents.

Here is how the God Gap Works.

Some Interesting God Gap Shifts


White Protestant Evangelicals








God Gap:
Shift= + 7%
Shift= + 4%
Shift= - 7%

Again, from the Progressive Magazine
There are also strategic reasons for the Christian Right to be lukewarm toward McCain. Author Adele Stan has been pointing out for months that Christian Right strategists used Pat Buchanan’s threat to bolt the GOP in 1996 as leverage to write into the Republican Party platform an ultraconservative wish list that helped sink the “too-liberal” Republican candidate Bob Dole. The next election in 2000 saw Republican strategists kneeling before the Christian Right voter base. This year it is possible that many Christian Right strategists will focus on Republican Senate seats and state elections and aim at rekindling a conservative resurgence in 2012.
More soon - stay tuned

See, for more information: Chip Berlet. 2008.
"Huckabee Fails to Keep Southern Evangelical Base United"

Chip Berlet. 2008. "Reading the Bible Belt Before Coming of Super Tuesday"

Chip Berlet & Pam Chamberlain. 2006. Running Against Sodom and Osama: The Christian Right, Values Voters, and the Culture Wars in 2006. Political Research Associates.

Chip Berlet, "Midterm Election 2006: Pundit Watch," Talk to Action.

Chip Berlet, "The Christian Right, Mid-term Elections, & Social Movements," Talk to Action.

John C. Green and Mark Silk, "Why Moral Values Did Count," Religion in the News, 2005, (Spring).

Scott Keeter, "Evangelicals and the GOP: An Update. -- Strongly Republican Group Not Immune to Party's Troubles," Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, October 18, 2006.

Geoffrey C. Layman, and John C. Green, "Wars and Rumors of Wars: The Contexts of Cultural Conflict in American Political Behavior," British Journal of Political Science 36(1), (January 2006): 61-89.

Andrew Kohut, "The Real Message of the Midterms," Pew Research Center, November 14, 2006.

Mark J. Rozell, "What Christian Right?" Religion in the News, Spring 2003, Vol. 6, No. 1.

Steven Waldman, " The Smaller God Gap," On Belief, BeliefNet,

Election cycle disclaimer. These are my personal essays written on my own time.

Chip Berlet, Senior Analyst, Political Research Associates

The Public Eye: Website of Political Research Associates ---
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