Religious left behind

At the Rally for Sanity I mentioned in my previous post, I happened to run into the People of Faith for Sanity breakfast at a local bar. It was fun chatting with the group, which was organized by Faith in Public Life. In the last couple of weeks, I had been researching a story about faith outreach among Democrats and it was shocking. There was almost nothing happening. After the highs of 2006 and 2008, when the Democrats seemed to, well, get religion. The Washington Post's Michelle Boorstein was on this story in May.

But as some of the exit polls were showing, Democrats did very poorly among many key religious groups. Like Catholics. And Protestants. They lost the ground they'd made in recent years. Many of the Blue Dog Democrats -- many of whom were really good at speaking about their faith in public -- lost on Tuesday. So while we may never know exactly what the cause of some of these losses were, it's definitely a story. (And please note: It's a different story than the one about how Christian conservatives came out in droves for Republicans.)

Daniel Burke at Religion News Service covers all the ground well in his feature "Have Democrats lost faith in faith-based outreach?" After summing up the loss -- and how it compared to 2006 and 2008 -- we get some analysis:

But in 2010, progressive leaders say, Democrats largely retreated to the same-old wonky language to explain their policies, and same-old political strategies to drum up voters--with predictable results.

"One of the ironies is that we had huge success with (faith outreach)," said Eric Sapp, a partner at Eleison Group, a consulting firm that worked on religious outreach for dozens of Democratic campaigns in 2006 and 2008--but none this year.

"It's part of why we are in power. It's been rough to see us go back to that pre-2004 strategy that had kept us in the minority."

The article is full of hard data, showing how Catholics swung even harder toward the GOP than Protestants did. It also includes the perspective of those who think the religious outreach problems can not explain what went wrong. Here's one interesting stat from the story:

In previous elections, the Democratic National Committee hired staffers for Jewish, Muslim, Catholic, and evangelical outreach. This year, those jobs are not filled, said the Rev. Regena Thomas, the DNC's director of faith and constituent outreach.

She says that religious outreach was subsumed to outreach to Hispanics and gays. Mike McCurry, President William Clinton's press secretary, weighs in:

But McCurry said religion "is not something you tack on to the end of your game plan. It's fundamentally at the heart of how you connect with voters, who clearly drifted from the Democratic Party last night."

The national party spent little money on religious outreach and that sent the message down the line, some observers say.

I can't quote the whole thing, but I think it covers a lot of different angles, including funding problems, the unsuccessful work that was done by some religious groups on the left and a bit of a firing squad where folks go ahead and assign blame.

I liked this analysis, too:

Part of that loss, some Democrats say, can be blamed on the success in 2006 and 2008: many of the people who ran Democratic faith-outreach programs now work in the Obama administration, draining an already shallow pool.

Just a nice mixture of facts, perspective and analysis, I think. It's the kind of story that spoils you, though, in that it does such a more thorough job with the issue than you're likely to find in most outlets.

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