"When Would Jesus Bolt?"
"In the last election, evangelicals made up 26 percent of the electorate, and 78 percent of them voted for Bush. That sounds like a fairly inviolate bloc. And, indeed, the conservative evangelicals for whom abortion and gay marriage are the deciding issues are unlikely to ever leave the Republican Party. But a substantial minority of evangelical voters—41 percent, according to a 2004 survey by political scientist John Green at the University of Akron—are more moderate on a host of issues ranging from the environment to public education to support for government spending on anti-poverty programs...
These moderates have largely remained in the Republican coalition because of its faith-friendly image. A targeted effort by the Democratic Party to appeal to them could produce victories in the short term: To win the 2004 presidential election, John Kerry needed just 59,300 additional votes in Ohio—that's four percent of the total evangelical vote in the state, or approximately 10 percent of Ohio's moderate evangelical voters. And if the Democratic Party changed its reputation on religion, the result could alter the electoral map in a more significant and permanent way....
There is a growing recognition among mainstream Democrats and the once-quiescent Religious Left that they can reframe issues they care about in terms that appeal to religious voters.
But winning over moderate evangelicals—or moderate religious voters generally—will take more than just repackaging old positions. It will require aggressively staking out new positions that can be used to demonstrate the tension within the GOP's religious/business coalition—embracing, for instance, the Workplace Religious Freedom Act. And it means forwarding new ideas that can counter the conservative-promoted image of progressives as anti-religious—ideas like Bible-as-literature courses in public high schools, which might anger some secularists on the left but are perfectly consonant with liberal values.
A sign that Democratic leaders are beginning to get it is the plan—promoted by leaders such as Harry Reid and Hillary Clinton—to lower abortion rates by preventing unwanted pregnancies. Full-throated support of this effort, and a recognition that abstinence education plays a role in lowering teen pregnancy rates (along with birth control), puts Democrats alongside the majority of voters on this difficult issue, and it is especially appealing to moderate evangelicals.
They're not looking to punish everything outside of procreative marital sex; they just want to see fewer abortions take place. And because evangelicals generally don't have the same opposition to contraception that Catholics do, Democrats can promote the kind of plan that would truly reduce abortions, something Republicans—with their reliance on right-wing Catholics—can't afford to do.
Despite all of the punditry about a “God gap” at the voting booth, this is a better moment for Democrats to pick up support from religious moderates than any other time in the past few decades. That's because evangelicals themselves are the ones who are broadening the faith agenda, insisting that there are issues they care about beyond abortion and gay marriage, connecting Gospel messages about the golden rule and the Good Samaritan to the policies they want their government to support.
For 30 years, the Republican advantage among religious voters has come from being able to successfully control the definition of “religious,” conflating it with “conservative” and encouraging the media to do the same. Measured against that yardstick, most Democrats come up short. But when the standard is more complex, when being religious also means caring about the environment and poverty and human rights and education, the plane levels. Soon enough, Republicans start to miss the mark, and Democrats get a little closer.
This is what gives Karl Rove and the other GOP headcounters heartburn...Whether or not large numbers of moderates migrate to the Democratic Party, if they succeed in expanding the scope of “religious issues,” the GOP will lose its lock on faith."