Palin Effect May Bring Ga. Evangelicals to McCain

Saturday, 06 Sep 2008 02:58 PM

By Phil Brennan

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Alaska's Governor Sarah Palin could swing Georgia's powerful evangelical vote to John McCain.

“I think she clearly articulates a conservative view that evangelicals appreciate and hold dear to their hearts,” the Rev. Bob Jolly, a Southern Baptist, told The Atlanta Journal Constitution. “People are getting to know who she is, and they like what they hear.”

Gov. Palin, who as a Christian evangelist, shares beliefs with most evangelicals, who, the Journal reports, constitute 1.25 million out of Georgia’s 3.29 million voters. According to the Atlanta paper, fully 38 percent of Georgia voters in 2004 identified themselves as evangelical, according to an exit poll analysis by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

Reports the Journal, "More than 1 million of them voted for Bush."

In 2000, McCain created a rift between himself and evangelicals when he called the Rev. Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, agents of intolerance, but he finally made peace with Falwell before he died last year. Despite that, the Journal notes that he still lagged behind George W. Bush in getting the evangelical vote.

Palin, the Journal speculates, could change all that, noting that she grew up in a Pentecostal Assemblies of God church but later switched to a nondenominational evangelical church that the Journal says believes that the Bible is God’s inerrant guide for faith and living -- adding that she's anti-abortion and says she thinks creationism ought to be taught alongside evolution in schools.

While Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama says he believes Georgia is up for grabs, most polls show McCain with at least a 10-point lead -- while a handful think the race is closer. Obama, the Journal reports, has already spent nearly $2 million on advertising in the state and has more than 75 paid employees and dozens of offices here while

McCain has spent no money on advertising, staff or office space in Georgia

Palin, however, could nullify Obama’s efforts to woo evangelicals.

“I’ve been surprised at the number of [acquaintances] I’ve heard say ‘I was on the fence … but this move by McCain is nudging me in their direction,’” Bob Reccord, a Southern Baptist business and personal consultant from Atlanta, told the Journal.

Ralph Reed, the former Christian Coalition director and a Georgia resident, told the newspaper that he believes faith-values voters were swinging McCain’s way this year -- even before Palin came on the scene.

“We’ve got a long way to go in this campaign, but with the Palin selection … John McCain has a great opportunity to get a higher percentage of evangelical votes than George W. Bush did four years ago,” he said.

On the negative side, some observers say Palin's presence on the ticket will not help McCain in Georgia.

“If this was 2004, the story would be Sarah Palin energizes the evangelical base, and this could tip the election to McCain,” Jim Wallace, a liberal evangelical leader from Washington, told the Journal. “It won’t be the 2004 story, because evangelicalism has experienced a sea change.”

Jonathan Merritt, a young Baptist from metro Atlanta, who has attracted a following by writing on issues such as the environment, told the Journal he has heard from religious friends leaning toward Obama that Palin’s selection has made no difference. Others have told him Palin has made the ticket more attractive.

“The jury is still out with people. They are just trying to figure her out,” he said.

Merritt, however, says Palin could give the McCain campaign a leg up.

Mark DeMoss, a Gwinnett County public relations executive, who the Journal says works with evangelical groups, is cautioning voters to look beyond faith-based issues.

“While I’m personally very conservative — I’m socially conservative and I care a great deal about a candidate’s values and character — I also care a great deal about competence and experience and those things I don’t think should be mutually exclusive,” he told the Atlanta paper, adding that he supports the McCain-Palin ticket but warns that it’s a legitimate question to ask whether Palin is qualified.

Rather than focus on her values alone, DeMoss said, voters should be sure she is “ready to be president from day one.”

“That question is a fair question,” DeMoss remarked. “It’s not only a fair question, it’s a question we Republicans would be shouting loudly had Senator Obama made a similar pick.”

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