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Michael Lindsay on the Elections

After Terryl Given’s post earlier today about Mitt Romney, I thought that it would be a good time to post this podcast with D. Michael Lindsay (author of Faith In The Halls of Power) about the role evangelicals will play in the upcoming election. The transcript of the podcast is after the break.

Transcript:Question: What role do you think evangelicals will play in the upcoming elections?
Answer: Well, gosh, I sure am glad my book is coming out this fall, cause everybody’s going to be talking about it in the lead up to the ’08 elections, and, fortunately, nobody will be out of the race at that point. So, I still keep all of my options open. On the Republican side I think the real story here is—who are the evangelicals going to support? Is it going to be another example of 1996 when Bob Dole was put up, and the evangelicals basically just did not turn out. They weren’t mobilized to get behind him; they didn’t think that he was strong enough on some of their commitments, and so, as a result, they just really were not a leading force in that election. That could certainly be the case. I actually think that Romney, though, could very easily kind of woo the evangelical voters—even though there are some great reservations among evangelicals toward Mormons. They take doctrine more seriously than the average voter. But Romney can actually speak the language of faith in very smooth ways, and so, I think on the Republican side they are far more likely to support Romney than they ever will Giuiliani. As one person, a guy named Richard Land who’s head of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention—he’s the leading spokesperson for the Southern Baptists on political life—he said, “We just really can’t get behind somebody like Giuiliani, and the way he treated his second wife, and those kinds of things.” That’s not going to be real mobilizing for them. So if Giuiliani gets the nomination I think it will be another kind of 1996. If he does not, then I think Romney has a decent shot, and it’s possible that Fred Thomson, if he enters the race, could be the wild-card character.

But the most interesting story of the 2008 election will be the ways in which Democrats reach out in powerful ways to the evangelical voting block. It’s already happening—there have been several books written about how you can be liberal politically and serious about your faith. Hillary did something very smart. She hired as her liaison to the religious community, not a Roman Catholic, as is often done in Democratic campaigns, but she hired a hardcore evangelical, a guy named Burns Strider. Burns Strider is a Southern Baptist, as he says, “I’m a born-again Christian from Mississippi.” And he headed the Democratic Faith Working Caucus for the last two years. After the 2004 elections Nancy Pelosi and others said, “We’ve really got to do something to help our candidates and our officials talk about their faith in ways that resonate.” And so they formed this working caucus a couple of months ago. Hillary hired Burns Strider in her campaign. And there are tremendous outreach efforts that are going on in the Clinton campaign towards the evangelical voter.

This is one of the interesting things, because she has a really tough road to hoe. In essence, if evangelicals have any devil among the political candidates out there, it’s Hillary. I mean, she embodies the story of 1960’s progressivism, in powerful ways. So there’s a lot of animosity towards her. And yet, Hillary Clinton’s first endorsement that she got for the presidency was not delivered by a fellow liberal; it was not delivered necessarily by a black religious leader—instead, it was delivered by Billy Graham here in New York. It was his last crusade; he preached back in the summer of 2005, and President Bill Clinton introduced Billy Graham. And Dr. Graham gets up to the podium and he said, “I’ve always told President Clinton that he would have made a far better evangelist. That he has all the right gifts to be a good evangelist”—maybe there are a couple of exceptions to that, but on the whole he thought that he would be a great evangelist. And he said, “I really think he just should leave the running of the country to his wife.” And with that the crowd kind of erupts. And that was really the first national declaration by a religious leader saying, “I’m behind Hillary.”

Hillary Clinton is the only woman that Billy Graham has met with privately in the history of his ministry—50 years, she’s the only woman. It was when he was preaching a crusade in Little Rock, and she was the First Lady of Arkansas, and they met for lunch in a Little Rock hotel. But that was the first time that had ever happened. So I think Hillary is kind of the interesting component here and the tremendous outreach we’ll be seeing towards evangelicals among the Democratic candidates.

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