National Catholic Register


Much At Stake In Mid-Term Elections

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.


Register Correspondent

October 8-14, 2006 Issue | Posted 10/4/06 at 10:00 AM


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 re-election.

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 University.

“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 states.

Heineman said Catholics tend to focus more on moral issues when those issues aren’t competing for attention with war and economic concerns.

“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 pro-life.

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 he’s correct.

“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 Democrat again.”

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, including abortion.

“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 issues.”

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.

Bishop Coakley 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 Virginia.

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 immigration reform.”

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.