Campaigns hit the pulpit on last Sunday before election

The campaigns canvassed church parking lots in many swing states while churches handed out voter information pamphlets outlining how each candidate views the social issues most important to many churchgoers. Sen. Obama has personally made a real effort this election season to emphasize his faith in attempt to connect with evangelical conservative voters.

Report on this from Yahoo News:

On the final Sunday before Election Day, volunteers for both presidential candidates fanned out to churches in competitive states, congregations bused worshippers to polls to vote early and a battle of wills erupted in church parking lots over the distribution of political literature.

Taking political messages to places of worship carries risks. Churches can lose their tax-exempt status if they take positions for or against a candidate directly or indirectly.

Officials with both the John McCain and Barack Obama campaigns said their efforts are careful to keep churches out of trouble, but it’s hard to know whether lines are crossed in such large-scale operations.

The McCain campaign recruited church members to pass out literature, take part in peer-to-peer phone banks and participate in the Republicans’ final 72-hour get-out-the-vote machine that began Sunday, said Bob Heckman, the campaign’s director of conservative outreach.

About 15,000 people volunteered, he said. On Sunday and the past two weekends, volunteers in 14 states who belong to Protestant megachurches, politically active conservative churches and Catholic parishes distributed literature at their churches comparing McCain and Obama on hot-button issues like abortion, gay marriage and judges. “Who Shares Your Values?” the flier says. “You decide.”

The flier also suggests that Obama wants to provide sex education for kindergartners — a claim from a disputed McCain ad about a failed bill from Obama’s days in the Illinois Legislature. Obama has said kindergartners, under the bill, would have been taught to defend themselves against sexual predators.

Heckman said the literature was given out “where appropriate,” including church meeting space, tables outside or car windshields.

Asked whether volunteers were told to get permission from clergy or church staff, Heckman did not directly answer.

“We only urge them to do whatever they think is appropriate or customary within their congregation,” he said. “The one thing we always do make clear is that if a church official would prefer we not distribute literature on church property, we respect their desires.”

One conservative Catholic political activist questioned the effort.

“If this were truly a national effort, the way it was in 2004, it might turn the election,” said Deal Hudson, who helped marshal Catholic support for President Bush. “But it’s too targeted — and targeted because of the lack of resources. The grassroots are there, but it’s a really missed opportunity.”

On the Obama side, members of black churches in battleground states were asked to read what an aide described as a nonpartisan letter from the Illinois senator during church announcements.

In the same line, the Pew Research Center says that Obama has failed to make inroads with religious voters. That report from Politico:

Barack Obama has courted white weekly churchgoers as avidly as any Republican-leaning bloc of voters, though it now appears his efforts may fall flat on Election Day.

The Gallup Poll now shows Obama backed by 28 percent of white voters who attend church at least once a week — a group that makes up a roughly a third of all voters — which would be no improvement from the 29 percent of these voters who, according to exit polls, backed Democrats John Kerry and Al Gore in the previous two presidential election.

“There has been remarkably little change among whites in the religion gap,” said John Green, of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life and a top specialist on the convergence of religion and politics.

No Democratic nominee in the modern day has made more of an effort to court religious voters than Obama. Jimmy Carter, a Southern evangelical, was the last Democrat to narrowly contest weekly church-going voters in a two-man race. But where Carter attempted to deemphasize his faith in the 1976 campaign, Obama has repeatedly returned to his faith to narrow the so-called God gap that has dogged Democrats for decades.

The party’s primary saw repeated and unprecedented events emphasizing faith, such as the Compassion Forum a little more than a week before the Pennsylvania vote. In the general election, in no less unprecedented form, the first event attended by the two candidates was not a presidential debate but a forum on religion and cultural politics at an evangelical megachurch.

It was at that mid-August event at Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church in Orange County, Calif., that Obama said it was “above my pay grade” to define when a fetus gains human rights, while McCain quickly replied, “At the moment of conception.”

For social conservative leader Richard Land, Obama’s response encapsulated why Democrats have failed to make inroads with highly religious white voters.

“It’s abortion,” Land replied when the Gallup data was read to him.

“I think pro-choice people in this culture have absolutely no idea of the depth and intensity of the moral outrage of the people who are pro-life,” Land said. “They think that conservatives use it only as a wedge issue.”

Not much of a surprise here since socially conservative churchgoers usually vote in droves for the most socially conservative candidate. What may be surprising here is that even with Obama’s attempts and incredible amount of money spent, he hasn’t seemed to make a dent in this area. It is similar to McCain’s attempt, if any, to court African-American voters, a demographic Democrats can usually count on to turnout 90% Democrat.