Biden campaign targeting Trump evangelical voters in bid for November surprise

“The battle for the soul of our nation deeply resonates with evangelicals,” says John McCarthy, deputy national political director for the Biden Campaign. “They would be open to Joe Biden’s message as well.”

Published: June 27, 2020 4:05pm

Updated: June 28, 2020 7:18am

Plenty has been written about the rock solid political love fest between President Trump and white evangelical Protestants. It’s been a unique match made in heaven that propelled Trump to the presidency. But in 2020, that relationship with his crucial base will be tested.  

Officials with Joe Biden’s campaign tell Just The News they believe they’ll be able to pull off a surprise this fall and bring in some voters from the evangelical movement. 

“The battle for the soul of our nation deeply resonates with evangelicals,” says John McCarthy, deputy national political director for the Biden Campaign. “They would be open to Joe Biden’s message as well.”

Biden’s campaign recognizes that the majority of white evangelical protestants will vote for President Trump this fall, but officials believe they have a good chance to win over certain subsets, including younger millennial evangelicals who have more moderate views than their parents and suburban women who may be tired of President Trump's inflammatory rhetoric. To that end, they’ve been conducting various listening sessions with evangelical pastors and evangelical women around the country, focusing on a broader set of issues like building a more fair and just society, climate change, racial injustice, and immigration reform. 

“Those issues tug at the heart of faith voters,” McCarthy says. 

While surveys consistently show that the majority of white evangelical Protestants see President Trump as someone fighting for their beliefs, they also reveal mixed results when it comes to the president’s personal conduct. It’s this opening that has the Biden campaign hopeful, sensing that even among the president’s most faithful supporters, there may be a sense that some are looking for a candidate that exudes more sympathy and compassion.

“Joe Biden is able to use empathy and a common sense of morality to connect with voters,” McCarthy says.

Reaching out to conservative white evangelicals was a crucial part of Barack Obama’s strategy when he won the presidency. In 2008 he captured 26% of that vote; in 2012 it was 21%. Conversely, Hillary Clinton decided not to make a play for white evangelical Protestants, and it cost her: She won just a paltry 16% of that same key voting bloc.

"I've been very clear that the invitation was not given in 2016,” says Michael Wear, former faith outreach director for the Obama Campaign in 2012. “Broad swaths of the faith community did not feel like the Democratic nominee was interested in their vote." The end result was that Donald Trump won a whopping 81% of the white evangelical vote.

The question this time around is whether Biden can take a page from the Obama playbook rather than the Clinton model and try and win over a percentage or two of Trump’s base. After all, elections are won at the margins. 

“I think he's on track to do that,” says Michael Wear. “I think he's doing what he needs to do to let people from different faith communities, moderate and conservative Christian voters, know that they can vote for him and they'll have a partner.” 

Wear makes a prediction: "If former vice former Vice President Biden is on track for those 2012 Obama numbers (21% of white evangelicals), he will win by a significant margin.”

It’s not just white evangelicals who are in play. Biden campaign officials have a robust outreach program to Latino evangelicals and Catholics. Biden grew up in a middle class Catholic family, and he's hoping to win back Catholic voters who voted for Trump over Clinton by 7 percentage points in 2016.

The campaign believes white working class Catholic voters in battleground states like Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin are persuadable. The campaign has been holding virtual house parties with Catholic leaders across the country. They’re engaging in policy discussions after church services focusing on a broad set of issues that highlight the marginalized and vulnerable in society. 

“When Joe Biden is talking about dignity, these themes are straight from the catechism,” McCarthy says. “That type of verbiage is a touchstone for us. It resonates with faith voters.”

To be sure, there are pitfalls ahead for the Biden campaign. A main one will be that the candidate will have to overcome his pro-choice views on abortion, something the Catholic Church does not approve of. 

During the primary campaign, Biden was denied communion at a Catholic church in South Carolina. Father Robert Morey, the pastor at Saint Anthony Catholic Church, said he did it because "any public figure who advocates for abortion places himself or herself outside of Church teaching."

The Biden campaign acknowledges that for many Catholics, Biden’s position on abortion will be a non-starter, but they’re still hopeful.

“Catholics are not single-issue voters,” says McCarthy. “It’s not about just one or two issues. It’s more of an overarching theme as to where are the lessons of Christ found.”

Despite the Biden campaign’s efforts to make a broader argument to Catholics and evangelicals beyond the abortion issue, President Trump will draw voters back to this single, but very important moral issue. Recently in a sit-down interview with this journalist, he laid out how Biden will appoint radical leftist judges to the Supreme Court

"You can forget about the pro-life movement, because it'll be over,” the president said.

Biden is on the record wanting to codify Roe v. Wade into law and says he would get rid of the Hyde Amendment, a law that forbids federal dollars from being used to pay for most abortions.

Biden campaign officials say that despite the candidate’s views on abortion Biden will not be antagonistic to people of faith. While the Democratic Party is made up of more non-faith voters than the Republican Party, the base of the party are black Protestants. To that end, the campaign has cut a myriad of faith-based YouTube videos highlighting Biden’s principles of faith and has weekly “Believers for Biden” calls among faith leaders who get an update on campaign activity.  

Moreover, the campaign has put out a plan to safeguard America’s faith-based communities which would direct federal money to go towards security at houses of worship to protect against religious hate crimes and deadly attacks. The proposal would also seek to begin a new law enforcement program at the Department of Justice that would be tasked with preventing attacks against faith-based organizations.

While the Biden campaign is clearly doing more on faith outreach than Hillary Clinton’s campaign did in 2016, there’s still more work to be done. 

"His staff needs to continue to grow his state operations in these battleground states,” Wear says. “They need to be sensitive to religious voters. They need to have the capacity and desire to reach out to religious voters in a way that is relevant to them.” 

Meanwhile, the Trump campaign and the president himself will emphasize that actions speak louder than words. 

"I've done a lot for the evangelicals," Trump told this journalist. "If Biden gets even 1%, that would be terrible."

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