Catholic voters target of aggressive push

October 16, 2012

A group of conservative Catholics led by a former George W. Bush campaign staffer is engaging in a highly-targeted effort to turn out regular Mass attendees in swing states on Election Day.

The most aggressive efforts are being waged in Ohio, where organizer Leonard Leo — the former Catholic outreach director for the 2004 George W. Bush campaign — and a group called The Catholic Association is trying to move the needle toward Mitt Romney.

Catholics as a voting demographic tend to be a bellwether group in a presidential campaign and are key to whether President Barack Obama or Mitt Romney wins three weeks from now.

But Leo, who Bush appointed to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom and is on the board of The Catholic Association, argues those who regularly attend Mass are more likely to swing to the right and are motivated by concern that the church is being adversely affected by the Obama administration.

“This is an administration that publicly makes a distinction between freedom of worship and freedom of religion and has preferred the former over the latter,” Leo said. “In other words, it’s perfectly fine for you go to go church, it’s perfectly fine for you to pray in that pew, but keep it in the pew, keep it in the church house, we don’t need religion to be out there in the public square.”

Using voting rolls, consumer data and previously compiled lists, the group is targeting about 6 million Catholic voters in battleground states who regularly attend Mass and are likely to be swing voters, a fraction of the 57.2 million Catholics the 2008 American Religious Identification Survey estimated to live in the country.

Polls find Romney faring slightly better than President Obama among Catholics; he leads 47 to 45 percent, according to the most recent POLITICO/George Washington University Battleground Poll.

But when it comes to “active Catholics” — the subset Leo’s group is seeking — the same poll found Romney ahead 59 percent to 36 percent.

In 2008, Obama won 54 percent of Catholics nationally, compared to John McCain who took 45 percent. This was a shift from 2004, when Bush won 52 percent of the Catholic vote, compared to John Kerry, who despite being a Catholic only won 47 percent.

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