The Religious Right's 2012 Ground Game
The Christian Right's electoral ground game was one of the defining elements of American politics in the 90s. Many veterans of Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition continue to be active in politics, including the founding executive director, Ralph Reed. Indeed, Reed's new organization, the Faith & Freedom Coalition is, in many respects, picking-up where the Coalition left off. This has been written about by Adele Stan at AlterNet
and recently by The New York Times
But there is more
I have put more of the pieces together in a new essay in The Public Eye magazine. Excerpts, sans numbered end notes) below.
His nonpartisan image notwithstanding, Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, head of the Sacramento, CA-based National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference who has been popular in some liberal and Democratic Party circles, emerged in July 2012 as a key "Hispanic outreach" adviser for the presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. And an examination of his record suggests he had something to offer.
David Brody of CBN reported that Romney had been "regularly meeting" with Rodriguez (in addition to a larger group of some 70 top Christian Right leaders) since he clinched the nomination. Brody also reported that as a result, the candidate had "made a 180-degree turn and is headed to a significant Hispanic outreach."
These conversations do not appear to have been about Romney's views on immigration... Rodriguez's advice is more likely about how to find Latinos who will vote for Romney despite his anti-immigrant views.
Indeed, Rodriguez is part of historic efforts by the Christian Right and the Republican Party to peel off some Latino and African-American voters, and to inoculate other recent immigrants against their traditional affinity for the Democratic Party. Aaron Manaigo, a political operative working for Harry Jackson, told a breakout session at the 2012 Values Voters Summit, sponsored by Christian Right groups like the Family Research Council in Washington, D.C. in September, that they were seeking "some demographic advantage." To this end, they have staged events in swing states and those with marriage initiatives on the ballot. One notable event in New Mexico featured Rodriguez, Republican Lt. Governor John Sanchez and Fr. Frank Pavone, head of the militant anti-abortion organization Priests for Life. Jackson and Manaigo's session at Values Voters was titled: "Vertical Vote Campaign for Life, Marriage, and Religious Liberties."
But the Christian Right does want the Latino vote, and its targeted approach to mobilize a specific subset of religiously informed Latino voters is aimed for the long run. An expanding conservative evangelical electorate, including a growing Latino demographic, could be decisive in some parts of the country. Rodriguez and the NHCLC are at the center of that outreach through a partnership with the conservative Champion the Vote which aims to build the Christian Right's capacity to win a theocratic power bloc in the American electorate.
As Rodriguez told Pat Robertson in an interview on CBN, "The Hispanic electorate may be the salvation of the conservative movement and the Christian Church in America." Champion the Vote is a project of United in Purpose (UIP), an organization of conservative Christian Silicon Valley entrepreneurs that the Los Angeles Times reports is spending millions of dollars, and using advanced data mining techniques to identify unregistered conservative Roman Catholics and conservative evangelicals. They aim to widen the Christian Right electorate this year by registering and turning out five million new voters, primarily in states where, in the 2008 presidential contest, the margin of difference was less than the number of unregistered conservative Christians. To get there, they are seeking to recruit 100,000 "champions" to follow-up once UIP has identified the right kind of unregistered Christians.
NHCLC and UIP have closely collaborated for a number of years. UIP's 2010 tax return, for example, shows that it provided $112,500 for "voter registration Fuerza 2010." (NHCLC was the organization's only grantee.) Rodriguez claims the Fuerza project registered 268,000 new voters by focusing on evangelical Latino churches in Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Texas. As part of that effort, UIP issued a video in English and Spanish which stated that "friends have turned into foes"--and then showed pictures of President Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and then-Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, all Democrats (The top issues featured in the video were abortion and marriage).
NHCLC is, at this writing, one of some six-dozen Christian Right, anti-abortion, GOP, and Tea Party organizations, and religious broadcasters partnering in Champion the Vote. These include The Manhattan Declaration, the premier alliance of conservative evangelicals and conservative Roman Catholics, and Ralph Reed's Faith & Freedom Coalition. Champion the Vote's three foci are anti-abortionism, anti-marriage equality, and "religious freedom"--and its stated mission is "... to get unregistered Christians registered to vote, educated in the Biblical worldview, and voting accordingly on Election Day."
This year, Rodriguez appeared in the organization's voter mobilization DVD, "One Nation Under God"--along with Dr. James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family; Christian nationalist author David Barton, and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich--but with no Democrats. The ostensibly nonpartisan DVD is intended for use in churches and house parties.
NHCLC and Champion the Vote's approach updates the mobilization efforts by conservative activist Ralph Reed who led Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition in the 1990s.
Reed claims that his new organization's experiments in mobilizing conservative Christian voters have been so successful that they may explain why pre-election polls underestimated the winning margin of the conservative Republican candidates by eight to nine points in both the 2009 governor's race in Virginia and the 2012 recall election in Wisconsin, as journalist Adele Stan has reported. Reed's associate, Gary Marx, explained at the 2012 Values Voters Summit that they were seeking to find two million unregistered conservative Christian voters and to identify and turn out some eight million more registered voters who did not vote in the last presidential election. Whether they met their voter registration goal, Marx did not say. But he did say that the Virginia and Wisconsin models worked so well that they are now being applied in swing states and nationally.
... the Christian Coalition's methods proved to be catalytic in crafting the Christian Right political movement as we know it today.
"The first strategy and in many ways the most important strategy for evangelicals is secrecy," Reed once famously declared. "Sun Tzu says that's what you have to do to be effective at war and that's essentially what we are involved in... It's not a war fought with bullets, it's a war fought with ballots."
UIP claims to have compiled a database of some 120 million people and is running it against purchased subscription lists, among other data, to identify anti-abortion and anti-marriage equality Christians who are not registered to vote. This year, they are looking for five million, but over the next few election cycles, they are seeking to ID and register forty out of the sixty million they believe to be eligible.48 The Faith & Freedom Coalition uses the same numbers and the same general methods, which suggest a high degree of common purpose and coordination.
Grandiose visions, of course, like anything else, do not always turn out as planned. However, if UIP, NHCLC, and the many other partner organizations find even a few million ideologically oriented new voters who can be engaged in the wider movement we broadly call the Christian Right, it could be, as Rodriguez suggests, a transformational moment in American history.