Winning With Evangelicals
How the 2004 presidential race turned on religious outreach
Bush-Cheney headquarters sent the names of unregistered churchgoers back to volunteers across the country, who would call their evangelical neighbors and urge them to register. Some volunteers even offered to deliver registration forms and absentee ballots. Asked how many new voters the Bush campaign registered this way, Marx estimated the figure to be "in the range of millions."
Between the efforts of the Bush-Cheney campaign, the RNC, and outside groups like Focus on the Family, Rove nearly met his goal of turning out 4 million more evangelicals in 2004. Exit polls showed that 3.5 million white evangelicals who stayed home in 2000 cast ballots in 2004. Bush also captured a larger share of the evangelical vote in 2004-78 percent-than in 2000, when 68 percent backed him. Between new evangelical voters and those who had voted for Gore in 2000, Bush picked up nearly 6 million new evangelical votes, about twice his margin of victory.
Of course, to the true believers who built Bush's 2004 evangelical voter machine, there was more than demographics at work in his re-election. "Prayer was a hugely important part of the strategy," said Olsen, the Florida chairwoman for social conservative outreach. "I prayed that people not be persuaded by their pocketbooks [at the voting booth] but that ... they voted as if God was to come down and vote."
By April 2004, The John Kerry campaign had hired a born-again Christian and ex-Howard Dean aide named Mara Vanderslice to be its religious outreach director. At that point in the election cycle, Reed had been at work for six months assembling his evangelical outreach machine for President Bush. He had appointed chairpersons for social conservative outreach in battleground states. He had signed up tens of thousands of evangelical volunteers. Reed had begun collecting church directories to sign up new evangelical voters.
Vanderslice's operation inside the Kerry campaign was more modest. It comprised herself, then 29, and an unpaid intern. She had no volunteer lists. Except for Kerry's appearances before African-American congregations, the campaign had resolved to stay out of churches. "They didn't have any vision at all," Vanderslice said of the campaign's religious outreach strategy. "I just kind of had to make it up."
There were six months till Election Day.
Even before Kerry emerged as the Democratic front-runner, he had drawn fire from a handful of Catholic bishops. St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke said he would refuse to give Holy Communion to Kerry, a former altar boy and lifelong Catholic, because he was pro-choice. A Colorado Springs bishop went so far as to instruct Catholic voters who backed candidates supportive of abortion rights to forgo Communion.
Kerry was surprised and hurt by the attacks, according to aides. "I've met with many bishops ... on this very subject before and after the campaign," he said after the election. "And key prelates in the church have indicated to me that nowhere in canon law is there any refusal of the Eucharist to a parishioner." Still, Kerry responded swiftly at the time in the news media, expressing his respect for the bishops while affirming his own Catholic commitment and his opposition to "legislating articles of faith."