Winning With Evangelicals
How the 2004 presidential race turned on religious outreach
More than a year before Election Day, Reed appointed chairpersons for social conservative outreach in a dozen and a half battleground states. State chairs appointed regional and county chairpersons, who recruited volunteer foot soldiers. "It was a brilliant strategy to integrate the social conservative constituency into the campaign," Reed said after the election. "The Democrats did the opposite. Their ground game was outsourced ... to MoveOn.org and labor groups."
In Florida, Reed drafted Pam Olsen, the leader of Florida Prayer Network, to be state chairperson for social conservative outreach. In 2000, Olsen had staged a 40-day fast before Election Day and a second fast from Election Day till the Bush-Gore recount fiasco was resolved. After being tapped by Reed in late 2003, she quickly appointed a dozen regional coordinators around the state, along with chairpersons in each of Florida's 67 counties. Each county chairperson signed up 30 to 50 volunteers.
As in other states, Olsen's network had two objectives: persuading evangelical churches to host voter registration drives, and convincing pastors to speak from the pulpit on the importance of making voting decisions based on hot button issues. "The word of God says God is pro-life and that God is for marriage between a man and a woman," Olsen said after the election. "With issues like education or poverty or the war in Iraq, Christians fall on both sides."
Armed with a database of 5,000 churches, Olsen made no attempt to discourage pastors from registering Democrats or John Kerry supporters. That's because the Bush campaign had calculated that 7 in 10 new evangelical voters would support Bush.
Efforts like Olsen's were replicated in other battleground states. Of the 1.4 million volunteers the Bush re-election team signed up, Reed estimates that up to 350,000 were "pro-family" conservatives, mostly evangelicals. But Reed's get-out-the-evangelical-vote machine was nearly invisible to the media. The conventional wisdom was that Bush was connecting with evangelicals through coded rhetoric and conservative stances, leaving churches to mobilize themselves. Feeding that perception was the bad press the Republican National Committee got in July 2004, when it was reported that the RNC had solicited church directories from Catholic supporters in Pennsylvania. Even Richard Land, president of the public policy wing of the Southern Baptist Convention and a staunch Bush ally, said he was appalled by the strategy, calling it a "violation of the sanctity of the [church] body."
Networking through directories. But because there were virtually no follow-up accounts of the RNC seeking church directories after the Pennsylvania incident, the widespread assumption was that the GOP had pulled the plug on the operation.
Nothing could be further from the truth. The Bush campaign continued to zealously pursue church directories to identify and sign up new evangelical voters even after the RNC had been exposed in Pennsylvania. Reed's network funneled directories from thousands of evangelical churches to Bush-Cheney headquarters. "We would input all the individual [church directory] lists, match them against the voter files, and find out-surprise, surprise-there are millions of people who attend church who are not registered to vote," said Marx, the Bush-Cheney '04 conservative coalition director.