Amy Sullivan: Republicans Don't Own Evangelicals | Sojourners

Amy Sullivan: Republicans Don't Own Evangelicals

I still have another month on self-imposed blogging hiatus so that I can finish my book. But I couldn't let this pass without comment.

Rod Dreher quotes Stuart Rothenberg, who shoots down the idea that Democrats can pick up votes from evangelicals by claiming that "the numbers suggest that Democratic opportunities among evangelicals are very limited."

In fact, the numbers suggest no such thing. The only numbers Rothenberg cites are the meager gains Democrats made nationally among evangelicals in November 2006. But no one - and certainly not the Democratic religion consultants he criticizes in the piece - has claimed that Democrats made great strides among evangelicals nationally last year. Indeed, it would be surprising if they had, given that the party made virtually no special effort to court evangelical voters.

What Democrats like Mara Vanderslice and Eric Sapp (and, to be fair, me) have said is that in the states where Democrats spent a year or two establishing relationships with evangelical leaders and voters, candidates did make significant gains. In Michigan and Ohio, for instance, the Democratic gubernatorial candidates nearly split the evangelical vote. And, contrary to Rothenberg's assertion that evangelicals won't vote Democratic because they vote based on issues (which he defines narrowly as gay marriage and abortion), those winning Democratic candidates were pro-choice and pro-gay rights.

Nowhere in the rest of the piece does Rothenberg cite actual numbers to make his point. He counters evidence Sapp and Vanderslice gathered based on meetings with hundreds of evangelical leaders by simply asserting: "If you know anything about evangelicals, you know this is simply wrong."

Well, Vanderslice and Sapp may not be pollsters, but they are evangelicals, so they know a thing or two about the community. And they know that while a majority of evangelicals may decide to stick with the GOP in the hopes of changing the party from the inside, it's more than possible for Democrats to pick up enough evangelical voters to put them over the top. Republicans did the same thing courting socially conservative African-American voters in 2004. It works where Democrats have tried it. So why on earth would you hold up cases in which Democrats haven't tried it as proof that it can't work?

Amy Sullivan is a Red Letter Christian and a contributing editor for The Washington Monthly.