Winning With Evangelicals
How the 2004 presidential race turned on religious outreach
But beyond Kerry's own reactions in the press, his campaign declined to dispatch credible Catholic figures in his defense or to reach out to Catholics with Kerry's response. The way the story was playing out in the media, it was easy to infer that a rift had opened between Kerry and the Roman Catholic Church he claimed to belong to. "There were many conversations about it, but there was a lot of fear and indecision about how to respond," Vanderslice said. "[N]ot having some backup within the broader Catholic community made [the campaign] even more timid." The Kerry campaign decided to ignore the bishops.
Kerry's privacy. But one of Vanderslice's goals remained getting Kerry to open up about his faith. She noticed that Kerry's appearance at Ronald Reagan's funeral in June 2004, where he crossed himself over Reagan's coffin, went a long way in making religious people comfortable with him. "People were longing to understand ... what was guiding him," Vanderslice said. But Kerry was reluctant to discuss his faith, in contrast to President Bush, whose tale of conversion from drunk to born-again was well known.
It wasn't until 10 days before Election Day that Kerry delivered his so-called faith and values speech. At a stop in Florida, Kerry quoted from all four Gospels and the Ten Commandments. He spoke of how his Catholicism played into his upbringing and his service in the Vietnam War. He explained the Catholic notion of the "common good." The Washington Post called it "perhaps the most overtly religious speech of the campaign by either candidate."
Vanderslice welcomed the speech, but thought it came much too late. She had tried for months to insert religious themes into message development, but was stymied by senior campaign officials. She also felt that Kerry's "faith and values" speech was delivered in the wrong venue: to a largely Jewish audience in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Vanderslice had long pressed for Kerry to appear in an overtly Christian setting, like an evangelical or Catholic college, but she met with resistance from the campaign.
The Kerry campaign's fears about its religious outreach effort backfiring seemed to be vindicated in June 2004, when the conservative Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights issued a press release attacking Kerry for hiring Vanderslice. It assailed Vanderslice for her involvement with her college's Socialist Alliance and noted her role as an organizer for World Trade Organization and World Bank protests. "Her rÃÂÃÂÃÂmÃÂÃÂÃÂs that of a person looking for a job ... for Fidel Castro," the league said. "Just wait until Catholics and Protestants learn who this lady really is."
After the Catholic League attack, Vanderslice was barred by the Kerry campaign from speaking to the press. She had been hired barely a month earlier. When the Catholic League later criticized the religious outreach director for the Democratic National Committee, that person was silenced as well. The result was that the Democrats' ties to the religious press were completely severed. "Reporters from the religious press ... didn't get their phone calls returned for two or three months," Vanderslice said.