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Evangelical voters let politics trump religious purity

Back during the Democratic primaries of 2008, Hillary Clinton had a clever idea: make an appeal to evangelical Christian voters. And why not? She had a solid Methodist upbringing and a good narrative of how her faith had guided her through life's challenges (like coping with a horny husband). Plus, a lot of these voters were convinced that her rival, Barack Obama, was a Muslim.

Unfortunately for Hillary, no matter how sincere her Christian faith, she had one big disqualifying mark against her: She was a liberal Democrat.

On a Sunday a couple of weeks before the 2008 Super Tuesday primary, I was in Colorado Springs, one more way station along the campaign trail. The mega-church founded by disgraced pastor Ted Haggard was just a block away from my hotel, so I went to morning services to see if I could learn anything new about evangelical voters. I especially wanted to know if someone like Hillary had a chance of getting their support.

I had a pleasant conversation with an associate pastor named Rob Brendle. Here is what I wrote at the time:

Brendle eagerly shared his political analysis with me. The pastor thinks the country needs “a morally principled diplomat in the White House" like Mitt Romney, not a religious leader like Mike Huckabee. Nothing would be worse for Christian conservatives than a candidate who scared the rest of America with too much focus on his faith, he said.

“What about the Democrats?” I asked. Both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have been making overtures to churchgoers. Brendle laughed and said he’d seen it before. He was in a meeting with John Kerry in 2004 where the Democratic candidate pulled a tiny New Testament from his pocket to prove his piety. Nobody bought it then, Brendle said, and it wouldn’t sell this year either.

“If Hillary has suddenly started reading the Scriptures, then I’m glad she’s reading the Scriptures,” Brendle said, but evangelicals are sticking with the Republicans.

Now, in 2012, nothing has changed.

Not all evangelicals are conservatives -- there is a strong contingent whose faith has led them to focus on issues of poverty and environmental protection -- but most are. They've found a champion much to their liking in Rick Santorum, and some are suspicious of Romney's Mormonism, but, when it comes down to a choice in November, most evangelicals will be strategic like Rob Brendle. They will accommodate their religious views to political considerations and vote for the man who talks about cutting taxes, sending illegal immigrants packing and chopping programs for the poor -- Mitt Romney.

What the Bible has to say on those issues will not matter much at all.

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
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