John McCain is a lucky man. He’s alienated what has become an important part of the Republican Party—conservative Christians—by shoving aside the Revs. John Hagee (Hitler remarks) and Rod Parsley (general nuttiness) and staying mum on California’s Supreme Court ruling in favor of gay marriage. And yet he appears at worse in a dead heat with Barack Obama, maybe better.
How can this be? Well, Ed Stoddard writes for Reuters that McCain has a trump card guaranteeing the Religious Right’s vote:
“Religious conservatives may not be wildly enthusiastic about McCain but they can point to his pro-life stance as reason to stay on board,” said Matthew Wilson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.
The Arizona senator’s position on the issue distinguished him in the early stages of the Republican contest from former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, whose support for abortion rights dismayed conservative Christians and led to threats to form a third party if he had secured the nomination.
That signaled abortion was a line in the sand that this vital wing of the Republican Party would not cross and secured endorsements for McCain from leading conservative Christians such as Republican Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback, whose own run for the nomination faltered.
Influential evangelicals like Focus on the Family’s James Dobson, whose radio show reaches millions, have expressed their displeasure at McCain’s past support for stem cell research and his failure to back a federal ban on gay marriage.
But nothing unites evangelicals like their opposition to abortion, which many compare to the anti-slavery movements of the past—a comparison that raises the moral stakes and suggests they will not back down on it.
Polls suggest the issue is becoming even more entrenched in conservative Christian culture.
An analysis of surveys from 2001 to 2007 by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life found that young white evangelicals between the ages of 18 and 29 were even more conservative on the issue than their elders.
It found 70 percent said they were in favor of making it more difficult for a woman to get an abortion compared with 55 percent of older white evangelicals and 39 percent of young Americans overall.
McCain’s stance also appeals to centrist evangelicals, who have been attracted to him by his opposition to abortion combined with his call for action on climate change and his resolute condemnation of the use of torture by U.S. forces.
(Hat tip: God-o-Meter, which has McCain’s religious rating at 2.)
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