2:31am

Mon October 15, 2012
It's All Politics

In Battleground Ohio, Catholic Voters Apply Faith In Different Ways

Originally published on Mon October 15, 2012 7:34 am

Catholic voters are an important constituency in the battleground state of Ohio, where they represent about one-fourth of voters.

They went for President Bush in 2004, but for candidate Barack Obama in 2008. This year, for the first time, they'll be choosing between two tickets that both feature a practicing Catholic.

During last week's debate, GOP vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan spoke about his faith this way: "I don't see how a person can separate their public life from their private life or from their faith. Our faith informs us in everything we do. My faith informs me about how to take care of the vulnerable, about how to make sure that people have a chance in life."

His Democratic counterpart and fellow Catholic, Vice President Joe Biden, said his religion defines him.

"I've been a practicing Catholic my whole life. And it has particularly informed my social doctrine. Catholic social doctrine talks about taking care of those ... who can't take care of themselves."

Ryan stressed the church's teaching on life issues, such as abortion, while Biden stressed the social justice part of Catholic doctrine.

Vincent Miller, who teaches religion and theology at the University of Dayton in Ohio, says Biden and Ryan represent the two great themes in Catholics' politics.

"They care about life issues especially," he says. "Catholics also ... think in terms of community, and they think in terms of government having responsibility for community."

Miller says different issues bring out different Catholic voters. For instance, in 2004, there was a gay marriage amendment on the ballot.

"And there was very little people could do to affect their rather desperate situation on the economy, so votes gravitated toward that action that would let them do something," he says. "In this election, changes to Medicare are a real issue. The same communitarian — the same common good imagination that pushes them another way this time."

The division among Catholics can be seen at events held by a group called Nuns on the Bus. The nuns have been active and outspoken — and often at odds with the church's male-dominated hierarchy.

This fall, they're traveling around Ohio, calling attention to issues such as poverty.

Kathy Trangenstein of Oakwood, Ohio, came to see the Nuns on the Bus at a rally at the University of Dayton. She says she's still on fence about the election.

"I've always voted straight Republican," she says. "But now I see what's going on, and I'm afraid all the help is going to be cut off if the Republican ticket wins."

Meanwhile, Ellen Merkel of Centerville, Ohio, says abortion remains the key issue for her.

"The issue of life, we talk about it ... even the Republicans kind of give it lip service — but I'll support someone who at least gives me lip service more than I will on someone who says, 'I'm gonna double down on Planned Parenthood,' " she says.

Also on hand at the Dayton rally was Dottie Klein. She says she used to be a Goldwater Republican but now plans to vote for Obama, because she's looking for a different emphasis — "an emphasis on the poor."

"I think we need to help one another," she says. "I think that immigration is another thing — I think we're looking for scapegoats."

When the Nuns on the Bus reached Columbus, Greg Sutton was in the crowd. Sutton is an example of a Catholic voter moving away from the president.

"I did vote for this president, yes. I think actually it was the health care — the imposition of ... I don't like calling it Obamacare, but I don't know what else to call it," he says. "I think Obamacare started it, and then I became more disillusioned with the president."

Polls show the president fighting to defend a slim lead among Catholics in Ohio — a margin crucial to his fortunes in the state. The party that wins the Catholic vote in Ohio usually wins the state — and the winner in Ohio nearly always wins the election.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Let's go to organized politics to the politics of organized religion.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Candidates are fighting for every vote in Ohio and paying special attention to the Catholic vote.

INSKEEP: Catholics make up about a quarter of the electorate in Ohio. As in many states, the Catholic vote is so large and so diverse that appealing to them is a little like appealing to America at large. Each party has its backers.

MONTAGNE: In 2004, the overall Catholic vote in Ohio went for President Bush.

INSKEEP: Ohio Catholics favored Barack Obama in 2008.

MONTAGNE: In 2012, for the first time, they're choosing between two tickets that both feature a practicing Catholic.

INSKEEP: NPR's Sonari Glinton reports.

SONARI GLINTON, BYLINE: To give you an idea of how politically diverse Catholics are in the U.S., consider a short list of some Catholic politicians: John Kerry, Marco Rubio, Nancy Pelosi, John Boehner, Joe Biden, Paul Ryan. Here's Congressman Paul Ryan talking about his faith during last week's debate.

(SOUNDBITE OF DEBATE)

PAUL RYAN: I don't see how a person can separate their public life from their private life or from their faith. Our faith informs us in everything we do. My faith informs me about how to take care of the vulnerable, about how to make sure that people have a chance in life.

GLINTON: And here's Vice President Joe Biden.

(SOUNDBITE OF DEBATE)

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I've been a practicing Catholic my whole life. And it has particularly informed my social doctrine. Catholic social doctrine talks about taking care of those who can't take care of themselves.

GLINTON: Congressman Ryan stressed the church's teaching on life issues such as abortion, and Vice President Biden stressed the social justice part of Catholic doctrine. Vincent Miller teaches religion and theology at the University of Dayton in Ohio. He says Biden and Ryan represent the two great themes in Catholic politics.

VINCENT MILLER: They care about life issues especially. Catholics also imagine - they think in terms of community and they think in terms of government having responsibility for community.

GLINTON: Miller says different issues bring out different Catholic voters. For instance, in 2004 there was a gay marriage amendment on the ballot.

MILLER: And there was very little people could do to affect their rather desperate situation on the economy, so votes gravitated toward that action that would let them do something. In this election, changes to Medicare are a real issue. And the same communitarian - the same common good imagination pushes them another way this time.

(APPLAUSE)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: OK. Nice to be in Dayton here.

GLINTON: The division among Catholics can be seen at events held by a group called Nuns on the Bus. The nuns have been active and outspoken - and often at odds with the church's male-dominated hierarchy. This fall they're traveling around Ohio, calling attention to issues such as poverty. They held a rally at the University of Dayton.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Today, Catholics all over the world reflected on a daily scripture in the Eucharist from St. Paul, which said we must be, quote, "mindful of the poor."

GLINTON: Kathy Trangenstein is from Oakwood, Ohio. She came to see the Nuns on the Bus. She says she's still on fence about the election.

KATHY TRANGENSTEIN: I've always voted straight Republican. But now I see what's going on, and I'm afraid all the help is going to be cut off if the Republican ticket wins.

GLINTON: Meanwhile, Ellen Merkel from Centerville, Ohio says abortion remains the key issue for her.

ELLEN MERKEL: But the issue of life, we talk about it. You know, even the Republicans kind of give it lip service - but I'll support someone who at least gives me lip service more than I will on someone who says I'm going to double down on Planned Parenthood.

GLINTON: Also on hand at the Dayton rally was Dottie Klein. She says she used to be a Goldwater Republican but she plans to vote for President Obama, because now different issues are important to her.

DOTTIE KLEIN: An emphasis on the poor. I think we need to help one another. I think that immigration is another thing. I think we're looking for scapegoats.

GLINTON: When the Nuns bus tour reached Columbus, Greg Sutton was in the crowd. Sutton is an example of a Catholic voter moving away from the president.

GREG SUTTON: I did vote for this president, yes. I think actually it was the health care - the imposition of - I don't like calling it Obamacare, but I don't know what else to call it. I think Obamacare started it, and then I just became more disillusioned with the president.

GLINTON: Polls show the president fighting to defend a lead among Catholics in Ohio - a margin crucial to his fortunes here. The party that wins the Catholic vote in Ohio usually wins the state, and the winner in Ohio nearly always wins the election. Sonari Glinton, NPR News, Columbus.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: This public radio station will accompany you throughout this election season. It brings you MORNING EDITION, and you can continue following MORNING EDITION throughout the day on social media. We're on Facebook and Twitter. You can find us on Twitter: @MorningEdition and @NPRInskeep. You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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