As a social conservative who watched with great interest as the Republican primary process wound down to it’s presumptive nominee, I am dumfounded at the number opportunities missed by the McCain campaign to shore up a significant and essential part of the GOP base. I am supporter of the senator and understand fully how he must convince large numbers of centrist voters to break his way in November. But he cannot win without the base. I’ve seen a disturbing plan (or perhaps the absence of a plan) that has been most clearly evidenced after Gov. Mike Huckabee conceded defeat.
John McCain missed his golden opportunity to shore up the GOP base while Hillary and Obama spent months fighting it out. For weeks on end the McCain campaign could have reached out to the evangelical and church-going GOP faithful. Instead, they chose instead to ignore them. Meeting with key faith leaders and hitting the Christian radio and TV circuit would have been a strategic use of McCain’s schedule. Even as Obama is meeting with key religious leaders, it seems the McCain campaign still doesn’t see the slightest need to do the same.
Moving to the middle is always expected in a general election, but with McCain’s support still tepid among the base, one would have thought he would have embraced social conservatives and Huckabee supporters at the same time as he was cultivating the middle. Instead, the campaign has acted thus far like social conservatives have contracted the plague.
What’s the explanation?—an overreaction to Rev. Jeremiah Wright and John Hagee? Or do they think that evangelicals have nowhere to go and trust they’ll just show up on Election Day? Tell that to Sen. Obama who believes there’s an opportunity in the waiting among some evangelicals and is going to work it with massive neighborhood meetings.
Let’s take a moment to remind ourselves just how important this segment of his base really represents. In October 2006 Scott Keeter with the independent Pew Research Center wrote about their recent polling:
White evangelical Protestants have become one of the most important parts of the Republican Party’s electoral base, making up over one-third of those who identify with the GOP and vote for its candidates. The party’s political fortunes depend, in large part, on retaining the solid support of the evangelical community. But evangelicals, like other voters, have been affected by the broader wave of voter disillusionment with President Bush and the Republican Party. Evangelicals remain the party’s most supportive group, but at levels significantly diminished from where they were in the 2002 and 2004 elections.
Keeter goes on to report that: