Associated Press hits the high points — just the high points — in story on religion of 2020 Democrats

Here’s your journalistic challenge: Cover the religion of the leading Democratic presidential candidates. (Some good advice here.)

Sound easy enough?

OK, let’s up the ante a bit: Meet the above challenge — and keep your story to roughly 1,000 words.

Wait, what!?

Now, you have a pretty good idea of what it’s like to be a reporter for The Associated Press, a global news organization that reaches billions and keeps most stories between 300 and 500 words.

To merit 1,000 words in the AP universe, a subject matter must be deemed extremely important. Such is the case with the wire service’s overview this week on Democrats embracing faith in the 2020 campaign. Still, given the number of candidates, that length doesn’t leave much room to do anything but hit the basics on any of the candidates.

For those who paying close attention to the race, the anecdote at the top of AP’s report will sound familiar:

WASHINGTON (AP) — When 10 Democratic presidential candidates were pressed on immigration policy during their recent debate, Pete Buttigieg took his answer in an unexpected direction: He turned the question into a matter of faith.

Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, accused Republicans who claim to support Christian values of hypocrisy for backing policies separating children from their families at the U.S.-Mexico border. The GOP, he declared, “has lost all claim to ever use religious language again.”

It was a striking moment that highlighted an evolution in the way Democrats are talking about faith in the 2020 campaign. While Republicans have been more inclined to weave faith into their rhetoric, particularly since the rise of the evangelical right in the 1980s, several current Democratic White House hopefuls are explicitly linking their views on policy to religious values. The shift signals a belief that their party’s eventual nominee has a chance to win over some religious voters who may be turned off by President Donald Trump’s abrasive rhetoric and questions about his character.

For a general readership like that served by AP, the story does a nice job of catching the high points — but just the high points, which is understandable given the space constraints — of the top candidates.

Three are highlighted up high:

Buttigieg, an Episcopalian who married his husband in his home church, often invokes his faith on the campaign trail and has tangled over values with Vice President Mike Pence, an evangelical Christian. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, a practicing Methodist and former Sunday school teacher, recently declared that all of her expansive policy proposals “start with a premise that is about faith” as she cited a favorite biblical verse about Jesus urging care for “the least of these.” New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker has called Jesus “the center of my life” and excoriates Trump for what he calls “moral vandalism.”

Keep reading, and others are mentioned:

New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand identifies as Catholic but regularly attends evangelical services as well as Mass, her campaign said. Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke said in a statement to The Associated Press that he was raised attending Catholic Mass, but, “As an adult, I have found a stronger connection with God outside of the church.”

California Sen. Kamala Harris and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders speak about their faith less frequently than some of the others. But Sanders — who would be the first Jewish president — recently joined liberal Jewish activists for a picture that identified them as Jews against Israel’s policies toward Palestinians.

Strangely, AP never specifies Harris’ religious affiliation.

Moving on, the wire service turns to Joe Biden’s Catholicism:

Former Vice President Joe Biden has openly struggled to reconcile his Catholic faith with his party’s more liberal position on abortion. In the 1970s, he said the Supreme Court went “too far” in legalizing abortion nationwide and later said abortion should be legal but not government-funded. He reversed that position only last month under intense pressure from his Democratic opponents, drawing a public reprimandfrom the archbishop of Philadelphia.

Interestingly, Marianne Williamson — the subject of a lengthy New York Times religion story last week — doesn’t make the cut.

Overall, this story is more an appetizer on Democratic faith than a main course. Going forward, it would be nice to see AP delve a little deeper, such as seeking comments from Republicans — and not just a Democratic faith operative — on Buttigieg’s criticism.

Perhaps a series of stories on the faith of candidates would be a way to serve readers’ interests and needs while still reflecting AP’s space constraints. Of course, the wire service may be waiting for the field to clear a little before attempting that. At this point, that would be an extremely long series.

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