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Many observers see this year’s midterm elections as crucial, and a chance for the Democratic Party to retake power in the House of Representatives and/or the Senate.
BY WAYNE LAUGESENRegister Correspondent
TOPEKA, Kan. — Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a Catholic, is one of the country’s most
outspoken supporters of abortion. And it seems she will have no problem winning
Her race is one of several
contests involving Catholic candidates that the Register is examining in the
run-up to this fall’s midterm elections. Other races in the series include John
Spencer vs. Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y.; Robert Casey Jr. vs. Sen. Rick
Santorum, R-Pa.; Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele vs. Rep. Ben Cardin and U.S.
Rep. Mark Kennedy, R-Minn., vs. Amy Klobuchar.
Polls give Sebelius
a commanding lead over her opponent, pro-life Republican Jim Barnett, and
Catholic political analysts say pro-abortion candidates could win races
throughout the country in the November mid-term elections.
“In this election, I think
Catholics are going to the polls first and foremost on issues pertaining to the
war and their pocketbooks,” said Kenneth Heineman,
author of God Is a Conservative, and
a professor of history at Ohio
“Are Catholics going to the polls
this time charged up about abortion, euthanasia, the death penalty and fetal
stem-cell research? There’s concern, but those aren’t the top issues for
Catholics right now. Protestant groups seem much more focused on those issues,
and there seems a bit of a Catholic retreat from support for conservative
Protestants,” he said.
In a year in that not only their
governor is up for re-election, but there is a possibility of major shifts in Washington, the bishops of Kansas are trying to educate voters about
their obligation to cast votes for Republicans or Democrats whose platforms
defend Catholic morality.
“The governor’s record on abortion
issues has been deplorable, and she publicly presents herself as a Catholic. It
creates a dilemma,” said Salina Bishop Paul Coakley,
who co-authored the voter’s guide Moral
Principles for Catholic Voters.
Sebelius referred to her “Catholic faith”
in a recent veto of a bill that would have required abortion businesses to
report late-term abortions in order that auditors could uphold abortion health
and safety laws. She stripped money from a state program designed to help women
find alternatives to abortion, and she’s a “recommended candidate” on the
Emily’s List website.
The bishops’ guide mentions no
politicians, but the message is clear: “We would commit moral evil if we were
to vote for a candidate who takes a permissive stand on those actions that are
intrinsically evil when there is a morally acceptable alternative,” the guide
Heineman said Catholics tend to focus more
on moral issues when those issues aren’t competing for attention with war and
“Protestants tend to bring
religion into politics more than we do,” said Heineman,
who’s Catholic. “Protestants gave up on the ideas of transubstantiation and the
real presence in the Eucharist, so what do they do at their services? They talk
politics. They try to morally reform society from the pulpit, and most Catholic
priests and bishops aren’t doing that.”
Who Is Pro-Life?
That’s what U.S. Rep. Bob Beauprez has experienced in his race to become Colorado governor. Beauprez, a Catholic and pro-life Republican, is running
against former Denver District Attorney Bill Ritter, a Catholic who claims he’s
Ritter leads by 17 points, with
only 11% of likely voters undecided. He even leads Beauprez
in mostly Catholic Pueblo and Colorado
Springs — a stronghold of pro-life evangelicals and
home of Focus on the Family.
Beauprez said Colorado Catholics and
evangelicals believe both candidates oppose abortion, thus taking an issue that
has won election for Colorado Republicans off the table.
Talk in Catholic circles indicates
“I come from a large Catholic
family that historically voted Democratic, because of the Catholic sense of
social justice,” said Tami Rodriguez, of Pueblo.
“Abortion isn’t an issue in this race, and I’m glad that I can vote for a
Beauprez said pro-lifers in his state
simply aren’t paying attention.
“I have a voting record, I’m proud
of it, and it’s 100% pro-life,” Beauprez said. “Bill
Ritter has the media saying he’s pro-life, but it’s not true. In our debates,
and in other places, he has made it very clear he makes exceptions not only for
life of the mother, but for rape and incest, and on one televised debate he
even said he makes exceptions for fetal anomalies.”
In that debate, Beauprez asked Ritter if fetal anomalies included Down
syndrome, and Ritter said Yes.
“He volunteered that he would
fully fund Planned Parenthood in spite of an independent state audit that says
their family planning money and abortion operations are absolutely linked and
can’t be separated,” Beauprez said. “He said he would
have signed over-the-counter ‘morning-after’ pill legislation that our current
governor vetoed. Yet, there has been a clear intent by some in the media to
characterize him as pro-life.”
Ritter’s campaign did not arrange
an interview with the Register, but sent an e-mail saying: “Bill is personally
opposed to abortion, with exceptions for rape, incest and life of the woman.”
“Personally opposed to abortion”
has long been recognized as candidate-speak for “but will actively promote
legal abortion.” Princeton Professor Robert George once pointed out that voters
wouldn’t tolerate a candidate who said he was “personally opposed to murdering
abortion doctors, but …”
Former presidential candidate and
Catholic political scholar Alan Keyes said a Democratic takeover of governors’
mansions and both chambers of Congress may be in the works, though it’s not a
sure thing. Keyes said Democrats have rhetorically softened on moral issues,
“A coup is possible, but it has
nothing to do with the Democrats,” said Keyes, who has a doctorate in
government from Harvard. “It’s because a large element of the Republican base
is unhappy with the way Republicans have handled their leadership. The base is
upset over the perception that this Republican Congress is the biggest-spending
Congress in history. They’re upset that Republicans have talked a good game,
but we haven’t seen concrete progress regarding life and traditional marriage
Keyes said Catholics have no
obligation to ally themselves with any political party, but they must vote
pro-life if they wish to be truthfully Catholic.
agreed. The voter’s guide explains that Catholics are free to differ on a
variety of key political issues, including: what constitutes the best
immigration policy, how to provide health care or affordable housing, war and
the death penalty.
The guide states that Catholics
have no moral choice regarding elective abortion, euthanasia,
physician-assisted suicide, killing embryonic human beings in stem-cell
research, human cloning and same-sex “marriage.”
“Such acts are judged to be
intrinsically evil, that is, evil in and of themselves, regardless of our
motives or the circumstances,” Bishop Coakley said.
“We have an obligation to seek to elect officials who would defend life.”
Though few political analysts are
dismissing the possibility of a Democratic landslide, nobody’s betting on one.
“I think Republicans will hold on
to the House of Representatives, but it’s going to be close on the Senate
side,” Heineman said.
For some pro-lifers, the thought
of a Democratic takeover of either house spells trouble for any legislation
that protects unborn human life. A takeover in the Senate would make it more
difficult for President Bush to get a pro-life judge confirmed on the U.S.
Supreme Court, should there be another opening.
“If you don’t vote, and the
Republicans lose the seat, and that in turn causes the Republicans to lose the
Senate, then what you’ve done is not helpful to the culture of life,” said
Leonard Leo, director of Catholic outreach for the Republican National
Committee. “I think it’s a lot harder for the president to nominate the kind of
judges he has been nominating if he doesn’t have the Senate.”
Republicans and Democrats are in
close Senatorial races in Pennsylvania, Missouri, Ohio, Michigan, Nebraska,
Montana, Connecticut, Washington, New Jersey, Maryland, Minnesota, Arizona and
The Register, in the coming weeks,
will look at Senate races involving Catholic candidates.
“I think the GOP control of the
Senate will hinge upon Maryland, Virginia and Ohio,”
Heineman said. “The Senate race here in Ohio is so close it will
break at the last minute.”
The Ohio Senate race pits
incumbent Republican Mike DeWine against Ohio’s
13th District U.S. Rep. Sherrod Brown, who voted at least eight times against
banning late-term abortions, and has promoted fetal stem-cell research.
“DeWine is from a large, Catholic
family in the part of Ohio
that lies south of I-70,” Heineman said. “This is
shaping up as a North vs. South election. The issues for the Southern voters,
who tend to be Christian conservatives, seem to be Brown’s association with
high taxes, protectionism and his stand against free trade. Those are the
issues in this election, not the traditional social/moral issues.”
Though immigration and the war
have been high-profile campaign issues throughout the country, Heineman doesn’t believe they will be deciding issues in
most races, and he said they are definitely not deciding issues for the
majority of Catholics and Evangelicals.
“I think those issues are a wash,”
Heineman said. “Both Republicans and Democrats have
tried to play the nativist card regarding
immigration, and they’ve confused everyone. The only people controlling the
dialogue are extremists like Tom Tancredo (a Republican congressman from Colorado). Catholics are
definitely sitting this issue out.”
Anti-immigration rhetoric hasn’t
caught on with Pentecostals, Heineman said, because
they actively recruit Catholic immigrants, legal and otherwise.
“In Chicago, this recruitment has gone so far
that Pentecostal churches are putting Madonna statues on their lawns,” Heineman said. “You’re not going to get them enthused about
Keyes said confused Christians
should turn to the words of Jesus to find the ultimate voter’s guide, and they
should vote for candidates and issues based on Christian morality.
“Christ didn’t say we should look
at their words,” Keyes said. “And we can’t look at words, because people do
surveys so they can figure out what people want to hear. It has become the
politics of deception, lies and manipulation. The words are all just
manipulative junk and you should ignore them. And you cannot judge them by
their actions, because even actions can be deceptive. People will do X, Y and Z
to gain your confidence so they can exploit it down the road. So what do you
judge? Christ said, ‘By their fruits ye shall know them.’ That means we look at
words and actions only in the context of consequences and results, and how
those results transformed the world around them in God’s direction.”
Wayne Laugesen is based
in Boulder, Colorado.