May 15th, 2012
03:46 PM ET
By Dan Gilgoff, CNN.com Religion Editor
Washington (CNN) – Just as it confronts fallout with some religious communities over President Barack Obama’s newly expressed support for same-sex marriage, the Obama re-election campaign is hiring a religious outreach director, it confirmed Tuesday.
Michael Wear, who currently serves as executive assistant to the executive director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, will join the Obama campaign in Chicago as faith vote coordinator, a campaign official said.
Wear, who was raised a Catholic but now attends a nondenominational, evangelical-style church in Washington, has spearheaded White House outreach to evangelicals and has focused on policy issues like adoption throughout Obama’s first term.
A source close to the campaign said the decision to hire a faith-focused staffer was provoked largely by continuing criticism of the administration from America’s Roman Catholic bishops and conservative Catholic organizations.
“I don’t think the campaign originally had this position in its box,” said a source close to the campaign, who refused to speak on the record because the person was discussing sensitive issues.
“But persistent opposition from Catholic groups sent the message that this was something (the campaign) had to think about longer-term,” the source said.
Sources close to the campaign say the timing of Wear’s hiring was not dictated by the controversy over Obama’s support for legalized same-sex marriage. After Obama announced his support, he hosted a conference call with 13 pastors Wednesday to talk about his views.
The Catholic bishops and conservative Catholic groups have attacked Obama over a proposed rule that would require all employees, including those at Catholic institutions other than churches, to have access to free contraception. Those camps have also alleged that the White House is waging a broader assault on Americans’ religious liberty.
Wear’s hiring was first reported Monday by the Religion News Service.
One activist who is close to the Obama White House said the decision to hire Wear, 24, speaks to the campaign’s demographic calculus.
“They could have gone with someone who’s been in Washington for 30 years,” said Tim King, the communications director for Sojourners, a progressive evangelical group.
“The campaign chose to go with a young Christian, and it indicates the Demographic they want to reach,” King said. “A lot of older evangelicals didn’t like candidate Obama in 2008 and don’t like him today. The campaign is making a concerted effort to go after young Christians.”
Joshua DuBois, the executive director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, directed religious outreach for the Obama campaign in 2008. Before that, it was unusual for Democratic presidential campaigns to hire faith outreach staffers.
In the aftermath of the 2004 election, when George W. Bush won re-election with the help of many so-called values voters and when religion-related issues like same-sex marriage figured into race, Democrats began stepping up outreach to religious voters.
Last year, the Democratic National Committee hired a minister, the Rev. Derrick Harkins, to lead its faith outreach efforts.
– CNN’s Jessica Yellin contributed to this report.
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