Left of the dial: campaign dispatches

believersforbarack 01More than any other story in this campaign cycle, Democratic outreach to evangelical Christians has some serious staying power. We have been told over and over that Democrats have ramped up their outreach to religious voters and we've been told all about every part of that effort. One of the latest entries into the fray is a really fun and well-written piece by the Washington Post's Michelle Boorstein. She looks at how Democrats in general and the campaign of Sen. Barack Obama in particular are trying to get involved in the Contemporary Christian Music and Gospel scenes:

That means the good people of Ohio will be peacefully listening to a radio preaching out of the Book of Revelation when suddenly -- " Jesus said, inasmuch as you did unto the least of these, you have done it to me" . . . calming instrumental music in the background . . . "As a Christian," says pro-life Democrat and former Ohio congressman Tony Hall, "Barack believes God calls us to care for those in need . . . "

That's a new radio ad scheduled to air on Christian radio in Ohio next week.

"We have people calling every Christian radio station; we want to know about their newsroom, what news services they use, how can we communicate with them. Oftentimes, they'll say we are the first Democrats to ever call," drawls Burns Strider, a Mississippi native who led faith outreach for Hillary Clinton. Strider launched a partnership this summer with Rick Hendrix, a major Christian music promoter, to connect Christian music fans with Democratic candidates. At any given time, listeners to Christian talk and music radio make up about 2.7 percent of all listeners, according to Arbitron.

It's a really interesting article with some great color. Hendrix came out of the political closet during Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's run for the Democratic nomination. He demanded his clients let him stage rallies at their shows or set up informational tables. He tells stories of people throwing coffee at his face and of someone trying to run over a volunteer with a car. Not that I don't find these stories plausible, but I'm always leery of including stuff like this that can't be verified. Particularly since Boorstein writes them down as facts. Probably would have been better to say that Hendrix said these things happened -- unless there were arrest reports she worked with or some such thing, which also should have been mentioned.

Toward the end of the story, we get some anecdotes about how well the outreach efforts are going:


What chances does this campaign have? Alan Mason, a programming consultant for contemporary Christian radio stations, says he tells clients to pay attention to the Democratic outreach because the next generation of listeners may have somewhat different views. "There is a real change going on," he says. "It's important we understand."

And Hendrix said he found 100 people eager to talk Democratic values with him in Louisville, at the National Quartet Convention, a Christian singing event.

That may be an anomaly, suggest other industry insiders. Listeners are "unmistakably" conservative, particularly on issues of when life begins and of marriage, says Joe Davis, president of the radio division for Salem Communications, the country's largest Christian radio broadcaster, with shows going to 2,000 affiliates.

Amy Sullivan, a journalist who recently wrote "The Party Faithful: How and Why Democrats Are Closing the God Gap," said yesterday at a convention of religion reporters that her book title may have been overly hopeful. "The playing field isn't terribly different than it was 2004," she said.

Way to bury the lede! For all these stories we're getting about the tremendous outreach effort, we're getting very little about the results of this outreach. Having looked at the latest Pew results, the fact is that outreach doesn't seem to be going well for Team Obama. In the second week of September in 2004, Sen. John Kerry had slightly more support among white evangelical Protestants, white mainline Protestants and white, non-Hispanic Catholics than Obama had at the same time this year. You would basically never know this from the coverage of Obama's "successful" outreach efforts.

The thing is that I'm actually shocked by these numbers and I wish we could get some enterprising reporters looking into why Obama isn't making inroads here. We have some pundits speculating on the matter, but it would be nice to see some actual reportage on the issue.

Another point worth mentioning is that a religion reporter speculated that maybe Obama's outreach is yielding some benefits. Perhaps, he wondered, his numbers would be even lower among white evangelicals (in light of his views on abortion and other hot-button issues) if he weren't investing all this time and money in reaching out to evangelicals. I don't know. But our current level of reporting sure isn't helping us find out.

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