Obama, Evangelicals, And The 'Matthew 25 Network'

On “The Daily Show,” Jon Stewart was chatting with Ralph Reed about a variety of election-related news regarding people of faith (Reed was the fo

On “The Daily Show,” Jon Stewart was chatting with Ralph Reed about a variety of election-related news regarding people of faith (Reed was the former head of the Christian Coalition, before destroying his reputation by hooking up with disgraced GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff.)

Stewart noted, “There’s talk that 40% of evangelicals will go with the Democrat [on Election Day]. When did the evangelicals lose their values?” Reed responded, “I don’t think that’s supported by the polling data. I think if you look at most of the general-election polls, McCain’s getting about 60 to 65 percent of the evangelical vote.”

This, of course, struck me as rather amusing. If McCain is getting about 60% of the evangelical vote, unless Reed thinks evangelicals are going to flock to Nader and Barr is large numbers, Obama’s on track to get about 40% of the vote. One doesn’t need polling data to reach this conclusion, just arithmetic.

Nevertheless, on the broader point of Stewart’s question, Obama is moving forward with various aggressive outreach. It was Mark DeMoss who brought up the 40% figure last week, but it’s the Obama campaign that’s committed to making it happen.

A spokesperson said the meeting of some 30 people will include leaders from several denominations including Evangelical, Catholic and Protestant members of the faith community. Among those taking part are Bishop Phillip Cousin, the Rev. Stephen Thurston and Dr. T. Dewitt Smith.

“Reaching out to the faith community is a priority for Barack Obama and will be a priority under an Obama Administration. This is one of several meetings he will have over the coming months with religious leaders,” Jen Psaki told reporters on the campaign plane.

There are some serious heavy hitters in this meeting, whose names may not be familiar to a secular audience, but who are pretty major players in the religious community, including T.D. Jakes, law professor Doug Kmiec, Phillip Cousin, and the National Association of Evangelicals’ Rich Cizik.

And then, of course, there’s the new “Matthew 25 Network.”

There were reports a few days ago that the Obama campaign was launching a new outreach project targeting evangelicals, and yesterday afternoon, we got a better sense of what the initiative is all about.


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A fund-raiser is being held tonight in Washington for a nascent political action committee that is hoping to reach out to Christian communities on behalf of Senator Barack Obama.

Called “The Matthew 25 Network,” the new organization, which is still in its earliest stages, is being spearheaded by Mara Vanderslice, who was director of religious outreach for the Kerry-Edwards campaign in 2004 and did similar work for several statewide Democratic candidates, including Governor Ted Strickland of Ohio, Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania and Governor Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas. […]

Ms. Vanderslice, who has been active in the budding movement over the last few years to encourage Democrats to be more willing to discuss matters of faith, declined to detail the group’s plans, because she said the organization is planning an official rollout later in the month.

Nevertheless, according to a description of the group that came with the invitation to its fund-raiser tonight in which the suggested contribution is $1,000, the committee is hoping to reach out to “targeted religious communities that are key to electoral success for Senator Obama, including Catholics, moderate evangelicals, Hispanic Catholics and Protestants.”

In case you’re wondering, the name of the project comes from the 25th chapter of the Biblical book of Matthew, quoting Jesus: “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”

The point, of course, is to expand the definition of what constitutes a “religious issue” beyond just gays and abortion, to include matters like poverty, the environment, social justice, and AIDS/HIV.

Are these efforts going to pay off? It’s too soon to say with any certainty, but I couldn’t help but notice that David Brody, the national correspondent for Pat Robertson’s network, noted Obama’s meeting with religious leaders and wrote, “Folks, this is an important development. It shows that the game has changed. Old rules don’t apply. We’re in uncharted territory.”

And noting the Vanderslice project, Brody added that the discussion over “faith and values” is “not JUST Republican territory anymore.”

Stay tuned.

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