In an election where most of the attention has been on the Evangelical vote, the group that could help determine the result in the general contest is American Catholics.
Many American Catholics reside in the industrial heartland’s swing states, such as Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin. They could make the difference for November 2008. In 2000, Vice President Gore barely edged out President Bush for the backing of Catholic voters. In 2004, President Bush beat Senator Kerry for the Catholic vote by 52 to 47.
In a recent Sun column, I spoke to both to two former local political figures who supported George W. Bush in 2000, former mayor Ray Flynn and former governor Paul Cellucci.
At the time, Mr. Flynn, who was president of the Washington-based Catholic Alliance, said he felt abandoned by the Democratic Party on a variety of issues, including trade, health care, and abortion. Now, Mr. Flynn, who travels around the country speaking to Catholic groups, says he senses his co-religionists returning to the fold. While the unpopularity of the war in Iraq is clearly an issue, also important are traditional economic issues that have moved Catholic voters in the past. “Right now, the so-called Reagan Democrat, they’re going Democrat,” Mr. Flynn, speaking from Rome, said. “Health care, education, human rights — these issues are so compelling in this election that they’re voting Democrat.”
Cellucci says he sees Mr. Giuliani’s success among Catholic voters in New York City as a foreshadowing of what will happen in a presidential election. “I think that part of the voting population of which I’m obviously a member of is looking for a strong leader, somebody who’s going to keep America on offense against terror,” Mr. Cellucci says. “One of the things that will be important is the record the mayor had in cleaning up New York City. Forty-second Street was pretty sleazy and turned it into a place where families could go.” Mr. Cellucci adds that many Italian-Americans, a group that tends to be Democratic, he says, “are going to vote for Rudy.”