A sobering 2012 election has political conservatives searching for ways to regain lost ground. Evangelical minorities might be a place to start.
For Harry Jackson, opposing the reelection of President Barack Obama meant crossing a group that delivered a higher percentage of its votes to the president than any other bloc in the 2012 election: black voters. Exit polls reported 93 percent of black voters supported Obama.
Jackson—the African-American pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, Md.—was blunt in his pre-election assessment of Obama: He told his congregation the president embraces an “anti-gospel” agenda, and he warned black Christians not to “celebrate your race over grace.”
Among many, it’s not a popular message.
When Jackson joined conservative groups in Maryland this fall to oppose a ballot initiative to approve “gay marriage,” Pam Spaulding—a black blogger at the popular PamsHouseBlend.com—took aim.
“The loudmouth carpetbagging preacher tried to pressure Congress to act and review the DC City Council’s vote to recognize marriage equality there,” Spaulding wrote. “And whenever the National Organization for Marriage or the Family Research Council wants a rent-a-homophobic-Negro to put before the cameras, Harry is Johnny-On-The-Spot.”
On the morning after President Barack Obama defeated Republican Mitt Romney—and Maryland voters approved “gay marriage”—Jackson admitted his efforts had been blunted. “It’s not an easy road, and I do get ostracized to some degree,” he said in a phone interview. “But there is a price to be paid when you’re at the tip of the arrow.”
For some evangelical leaders in minority communities, being at the tip of the arrow means opposing candidates minorities often support. And it means supporting causes—like immigration reform—that other conservatives resist.
This presidential election offered a dramatic example: A slate of conservative and evangelical leaders in the Hispanic community failed to persuade often-conservative Latinos to oppose Obama in significant numbers.
While former Republican President George W. Bush won 44 percent of Latino voters in 2004, Romney won 27 percent on Election Day. (That’s five points less than Sen. John McCain in the 2008 presidential race.)
Hispanics now comprise 10 percent of the electorate nationwide, and in swing states with large Hispanic populations, the opposition of Latinos may have been one of many factors that cost Romney the election.
It’s a conundrum growing worse for conservative politicians. And it’s perplexing for some Hispanic evangelical and Catholic leaders who say Republicans are losing a large swath of a pro-life, pro-marriage community they could be winning.
A Pew study from October 2012 reported Latino evangelical voters make up 16 percent of the Latino electorate, but a study that same month by the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference says Latino evangelicals make up about 28 percent of likely Latino voters. And though more Hispanics overall have embraced legalized abortion and “gay marriage” in recent years, Hispanic evangelicals remain staunch: A Pew Study in 2011 found 70 percent believed abortion should be illegal. (The same study reported 60 percent of white evangelicals held the same view.)
Meanwhile, a recent poll trumpeted 52 percent of Latino voters now support “gay marriage.” But the same study found 66 percent of Hispanic evangelicals oppose it.
One thing most Latinos agree on: They support immigration reform. Though it wasn’t their highest priority in the recent election, it’s a dynamic that continues to influence the vote.
That means Romney made at least two mistakes with Hispanics, according to some leaders: He didn’t promote reasonable immigration reform, and he didn’t emphasize the socially conservative issues many Hispanic voters embrace—even when the Obama campaign touted extreme positions on abortion and “gay marriage.”
In the post-election, soul-searching days ahead, examining both of those dynamics may be crucial for Republicans looking to win over a growing voting bloc.
When it comes to black voters, the hill is far steeper for Republicans, even among socially conservative blacks. And while evangelicals like Harry Jackson don’t expect soon to convince substantial numbers of black voters to support Republicans, he’d like to see the GOP make a more serious effort to win some of the bloc—an effort Jackson and others say didn’t happen this year.
Republican leaders aren’t the only part of the equation: Some Christian leaders emphasize white evangelicals should engage these issues as well. Finding a way to embrace minorities—and their concerns—could be key not only to strengthening political conservatism, but could strengthen the broader Christian community as well—something that might be especially important during a second Obama term that bodes more challenges for Christian concerns.
Immigration reform wasn’t the predominant issue on most voters’ minds on Nov. 6. Exit polls showed the economy ranked first.
Indeed, Obama’s reelection came as a surprise to many, considering the country’s nearly 8 percent unemployment rate and $16 trillion debt that grew worse under his administration. The president also presided over an unpopular healthcare law that threatens deepening fiscal woes.
Pundits debated whether Romney didn’t articulate a counter-vision well enough, or whether voters simply didn’t embrace the principles he did offer. Whatever the case, Romney centered his campaign on the economic malaise.
For evangelicals, social issues also remained important, though Romney didn’t emphasize opposition to abortion or “gay marriage.” That didn’t deter evangelical support: Exit polls showed 78 percent of white evangelicals voted for Romney—two points higher than support for McCain in 2008, and nearly the same level as supported Bush in 2004.
For Hispanic evangelicals, the numbers dropped drastically: An October poll by the Pew Research Center found 50 percent of the group said they’d vote for Obama. Thirty-nine percent said they supported Romney.
Hispanic evangelical leaders like Samuel Rodriguez of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference say immigration is a leading reason Latino voters don’t support Republicans. While President George W. Bush attempted comprehensive immigration reform, the plan languished, partly because of conservative worries over amnesty.
By the GOP primaries this election season, some conservatives were still adamant. During a Republican primary debate last September, Texas Gov. Rick Perry spoke of allowing in-state tuition for the children of illegal aliens. The crowd booed.
In a January debate, when moderator Juan Williams mentioned Romney’s father was born in Mexico, a few audience members booed again. During the same debate, Romney said he favored “self-deportation” for illegal immigrants.
Rodriguez says the overall tone was damaging: “Romney may have self-deported himself from the White House by alienating the Latino electorate.”
The subject of immigration reform remains tense among many conservatives. But Rodriguez and his allies say they don’t support a no-strings-attached amnesty. Instead, they favor a plan that would allow illegal immigrants to apply for U.S. citizenship, pay fines, and meet requirements to learn English. (See "The Lamb's agenda
Richard Land of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention endorsed Romney, but says the GOP must improve on immigration: “How many times do you have to bang your head against the wall before you realize it hurts?”
Land says it’s possible to reconcile legitimate concerns for the rule of law with compassion for illegal immigrants. Al Mohler—president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary—agreed in a post-election column: “The party’s position on immigration is disastrous, and is at odds with the party’s own values.”
The immigration irony: Obama didn’t do much better. The president promised during his first campaign to push quickly for comprehensive immigration reform, but never acted. Still, Latinos hailed Obama’s executive order in September that halted deportations for some illegal immigrants who were brought to the United States before they were 16 years old. The eleventh hour order may have secured wavering Hispanic voters.
Meanwhile, a smaller group of Hispanics was waging an uphill battle: trying to convince Latinos to support conservative politicians. In October, Rodriguez joined a group of Latino clergy in Boca Raton, Fla., on the day of the last presidential debate. The group of evangelical and Catholic leaders denounced Obama’s support for abortion, “gay marriage,” and the federal mandate requiring religious organizations to cover contraceptives and abortifacients in their healthcare coverage.
Romney didn’t provide much backup: Despite the millions of dollars the campaign spent on a robust Hispanic outreach (mostly emphasizing economic issues), Rodriguez said he didn’t see or hear one advertisement that specifically engaged Hispanic voters on abortion, “gay marriage,” or the healthcare mandate.
That’s striking considering Obama’s relentless attacks on Romney for his opposition to federal funding for Planned Parenthood—the nation’s largest abortion provider. And though the president endorsed “gay marriage” in May—and pushed it heavily during the Democratic National Convention—the Romney campaign offered little public response.
Even the healthcare mandate that led some evangelical and Catholic institutions to sue the federal government got little play from a Romney campaign determined to focus on the economy. (Obama won the Catholic vote 50-48.)
That left conservatives like Alfonso Aguilar on their own. The executive director of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles led a campaign in the swing state of Nevada to reach out to Hispanic evangelicals and Catholics on social issues.
The effort—called Nevada Hispanics—produced literature, conducted rallies, met with Hispanic church leaders, and produced a Spanish-language ad for television and radio to emphasize Obama’s position on abortion, “gay marriage,” and the healthcare mandate.
Aguilar—a Catholic—saw nothing like it from the Romney campaign in Nevada or elsewhere. But he said Obama volunteers were busy engaging the same groups “church-by-church, block-by-block. … We really couldn’t compete with them.”
Obama won Nevada 52-45 percent.
Black conservatives had an even harder time, but it wasn’t because they didn’t try. Harry Jackson spent months traveling with Christian groups in several states to promote conservative causes, including traditional marriage.
Derek McCoy, a member of Jackson’s church, spearheaded the Maryland Marriage Alliance to combat a “gay marriage” initiative. A slate of black pastors and church leaders joined McCoy in the effort.
William Owens led the Coalition of African-American Pastors, and said Obama had betrayed the black community by endorsing same-sex “marriage.”
E.W. Jackson—head of Exodus Faith Ministries and chairman of Ministers Taking a Stand—recorded a video for black Christians, and told them: “It is time to end the slavish devotion to the Democratic Party.” He also decried the Democratic Party’s “unholy alliance” with Planned Parenthood, “which has killed unborn black babies by the tens of millions.”
Ministers weren’t the only ones trying. Crystal Wright—author of the blog Conservative Black Chick—said the Republican National Committee hired her a year ago to create a black outreach website to attract more blacks to the Republican Party.
“After near completion of the site in the late spring of 2012, Romney and the RNC killed the project, explaining they didn’t want to launch the site without putting outreach activities behind it,” she wrote the morning after the election. “I agreed and recommended a slate of outreach activities such as town hall meetings at historically black colleges and universities in swing states such as Virginia and North Carolina. The RNC refused to fund any black outreach activities.”
Romney did address the NAACP, and the campaign talked with some black pastors. Jackson said he had discussions with Romney staffers, and offered to gather 100 black church leaders to meet the candidate. The campaign didn’t accept the offer. And he said he never saw campaign advertising or significant outreach in the black community during his travels.
(Samuel Rodriguez said the Romney campaign consistently reached out to him, and he appreciated the interaction. But like Jackson, he said it didn’t translate into grassroots activity in the Hispanic community.)
Jackson acknowledges the issues surrounding black voters are complex. But Republicans have gained a bigger slice of their support before: President Richard Nixon won 18 percent of the black vote in 1972, and George W. Bush won 11 percent in 2004. And while it’s a significant challenge, if Republicans and other conservatives never reach out, they’ll never gain ground, he says: “It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
The conservative black pastors seeking to gain ground faced an overwhelming challenge in a community that supported Obama by nearly 93 percent. The president enjoyed support from the NAACP, a host of black ministers, and local churches that supported his reelection.
PICO—a group that calls itself a non-partisan network of faith-based organizations—published a litany for black churches to use during Sunday worship. The liturgy included:
LEADER: “We honor the legacy of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X … We celebrated the successes and sacrifices of presidential candidates Shirley Chisholm, Jesse Jackson, and Al Sharpton.”
PEOPLE: “In 2008, we said, ‘Yes we can, and yes we will.’”
LEADER: “In 2012 we will not go back!”
Jackson said African-American pastors will have to be willing to face backlash to support more conservative candidates in coming years. And he encourages black churches to focus on “righteousness and morality,” no matter what politicians are in office.
That’s a message churches across the spectrum should heed, he says: “Our problems are at their roots spiritual. That’s an issue for the church.”
READ MORE: http://www.worldmag.com/2012/11/demographic_hope/page1