Obama camp, liberal groups use VP debate to organize Catholic voters
The debate between Paul Ryan, left, and Joe Biden marks the first time two Catholic vice presidential nominees are facing off.
October 11th, 2012
12:27 PM ET

Obama camp, liberal groups use VP debate to organize Catholic voters

By Dan Gilgoff, CNN.com Religion Editor

(CNN) – As it organizes Catholic watch parties for Thursday night’s debate between Joe Biden and Paul Ryan, who are both Roman Catholic, the Obama campaign hasn’t been shy about suggesting that the GOP vice presidential nominee hasn’t lived up to his Catholic values.

“For Catholic outreach, a defining moment in this campaign has been (Mitt) Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan as his running mate,” said Broderick Johnson, a senior adviser with Barack Obama’s campaign who spearheads Catholic outreach efforts.

“The Ryan budget has entered into quite a debate, particularly among Catholics, in terms of the moral test and what is in that budget and what the budget proposes to slash.”

Johnson is referring to the proposed budget that Ryan crafted in his role as chairman of the House Budget Committee, which was roundly criticized by many Catholic interests – including by the Catholic bishops – for cutting programs that help the poor.

The Obama camp hopes the debate will provide an opportunity to reprise such Catholic criticisms of Ryan. “The vice presidential debate will be a significant event and will provide a strong contrast on how these two men from the same faith come to two different visions for the country,” said Michael Wear, Obama's national faith vote coordinator.

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For a party that has often been accused of insufficient piety by its Republican and conservative opponents, Democrats' implications that the GOP vice presidential nominee has fallen short of his Catholic faith are a dramatic turnabout.

And it’s not the only way the Obama campaign and liberal groups are using Thursday’s debate to organize Catholic voters, one of the country’s big swing voting constituencies.

Beyond encouraging Catholic watch parties, the Obama campaign has been visiting Catholic colleges in swing states and dispatching Catholic campaign surrogates to address Catholic groups in the leadup to the debate.

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“Every time I see the president, we talk about how Catholic outreach is going,” Johnson said. “He’s very interested in that, and it makes my job more meaningful.”

Left-leaning Catholic groups that aren’t officially connected to the Obama campaign have been even more vocal in attacking Ryan from a Catholic perspective.

“Some of his positions are fundamentally at odds with the teachings of the Catholic Church,” said a Ryan critique issued this week by dozens of Catholic theologians and other Catholic scholars.

The organizers of the statement, part of a group called On All of Our Shoulders, said that while Catholic politicians who support abortion rights are often called out for their differences with their church, “Catholic Republicans who dissent from church teaching on issues such as torture, war, the environment and the economy receive far less scrutiny.”

With Ryan, progressive Catholic groups have taken particular aim his proposed budget, which passed the House but not the Senate.

A letter to Ryan from faculty at Georgetown, a Catholic university, summed up the Catholic opposition to the proposal: “We would be remiss in our duty to you and our students if we did not challenge your continuing misuse of Catholic teaching to defend a budget plan that decimates food programs for struggling families, radically weakens protections for the elderly and sick, and gives more tax breaks to the wealthiest few.”

This year, a group of progressive nuns organized a “nuns on the bus tour” to decry what it called the Ryan budget’s “slashing of programs for the poor.”

This week, the nuns reprised the tour, criss-crossing Ohio just in time for the vice presidential debate. “He clearly has not been where I’ve been," Simon Campbell, an organizer of the tour, told MSNBC of Ryan. “He just is out of touch.”

A progressive group called Catholics United is organizing watch parties for the debate, noting in an e-mail blast to supporters that the event marks the first time two Catholics vying for the White House are facing off.

“This election is coming down to the wire and the Catholic vote will certainly play an important role in determining who will win,” the group said.

The Romney campaign, like the Obama campaign, has rolled out a Catholic outreach effort. And Ryan has invoked his Catholic faith on the campaign trail after defending his budget in distinctly Catholic terms earlier in the year.

“The work I do, as a Catholic holding office, conforms to the social doctrine as best I can make of it,” Ryan said in an April speech at Georgetown in which he responded to criticism of his budget.

Ryan has promoted the Catholic idea of “subsidiarity,” which he says means that “the government closest to the people governs best” and which he says informs his budget proposal.

When Romney introduced Paul as his running mate over the summer, the Republican presidential hopeful called him “a faithful Catholic” who “believes in the worth and dignity of every human life.”

About one in four American voters is Catholic, though there is such a broad range in Catholic political concerns and voting habits that many political experts reject the notion of a cohesive Catholic bloc.

Catholics have voted with the winning presidential candidate in every election since the early 1990s.

In 2008, Obama beat John McCain among Catholics by 54% to 45%. In 2004, John Kerry – the first Catholic nominee for president since John F. Kennedy – lost the Catholic vote to George W. Bush, provoking Democrats to take Catholic outreach more seriously.

Both major parties had America’s highest-profile Catholic cleric, New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan, give the closing prayer at their recent political conventions.

–CNN’s Dan Merica contributed to this report.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: 2012 Election • Bishops • Catholic Church • Joe Biden • Paul Ryan • Politics

soundoff (517 Responses)
  1. joe

    What's amazing to me is that any grown man could possibly believe in sky gods. I mean do people have no ability to reason or what? "The sky god did this, the sky god ordered that, I prayed to the sky god, it was the sky god's will" -–are you kidding me?

    October 11, 2012 at 2:12 pm |
    • Sky God

      Say what, you jive turkey?

      Why I got half a mind to ho slap your panty waisted self!

      October 11, 2012 at 2:31 pm |
    • rocketscientist

      And what does that comment have to do with the subject of this article? Answer: Next to nothing.

      October 11, 2012 at 2:44 pm |
    • T-Max73

      Like most, they are the sickly products of childhood religious indoctrination. Put simply; they don't know any better.

      October 11, 2012 at 6:08 pm |
    • Urnso2

      I know Joe

      How could there be a higher power than Joe

      Sky gods may be mythology but I have faith in the son of man.

      The same faith that inspired many of the founders of this country.

      Lets try not to judge each other.

      October 12, 2012 at 9:25 pm |
  2. eleanor fitzgerald

    It is always a mystery to me how human beings can presume to know who or what God is, what God's thoughts are, or how God envisions the future of the earth and the universe or whether God wants to oversee the minute details of human daily life. Good and evil are both plentyful on earth. The best human beings can do is examine their own conscience and try to make worthy choices about their own lives and examine what their own thoughts are about the existence of God and how we can save ourselves from chaos if God is not there for us? Believing is not the same as knowing!

    October 11, 2012 at 2:09 pm |
    • Towelie

      I'm so high right now I don't even know what's goin' on.

      October 11, 2012 at 2:12 pm |
    • William Demuth

      Sorry Mr's Rigby, but why would God need to envision anything?

      Seems like, for want of a better word, illogical.

      I guess you don't grasp the whole omnipotence thing, do ya?

      October 11, 2012 at 2:34 pm |
    • rocketscientist

      Yet another comment commenting on faith instead of the actual contents of this article. Why am I not surprised?

      October 11, 2012 at 2:46 pm |
    • yaya

      What makes a choice "worthy"? What is good?

      October 11, 2012 at 3:44 pm |
  3. Where is your God now?

    You are at a German “sparkle party”. You are wearing your party pants. You are ready to dancy dance. It is a hard-core German sparkle party and you are wearing your rubber boots. The music is pulsating and it feels good to dance. You notice a familiar face standing at the bar. You dance over to her as fancy as you please in your polished rubber boots. You bend low to smell her perfume and say hello. It is your father.

    October 11, 2012 at 2:06 pm |
    • Meatwad

      I'd like to go to your party but I can't wear no damn pants.

      October 11, 2012 at 2:10 pm |
    • FajitaBob

      Thank you, Bill Clinton.

      October 11, 2012 at 2:12 pm |
  4. Scott

    Why, I will never forget where I was, the day our country first had its Catholic vs Catholic vice presidential debate......

    October 11, 2012 at 2:01 pm |
    • Scott

      Neither will this Scott 😉


      October 11, 2012 at 2:22 pm |
  5. WhereIsPalin

    RYAN / "what's his name".......2012

    October 11, 2012 at 2:00 pm |
    • 24 Hour Crisis Center

      Herman/Eddie 2012


      October 11, 2012 at 2:08 pm |
  6. bryes

    Let's not worry about their religion, but listen to their policies.

    October 11, 2012 at 1:48 pm |
    • 24 Hour Crisis Center

      That would be fine, however Romney's camp does not tell us their policies.

      October 11, 2012 at 1:54 pm |
    • vinni gambini

      catholic vs catholic debate huh....
      what does this mean?
      are non-catholics not allowed?

      October 11, 2012 at 1:57 pm |
    • 0G-No gods, ghosts, goblins or ghouls

      Nor is Romney honest about his religion. How can he expect anyone to believe that he will actually ignore his beliefs, that he has described as one of the most significant things in his life, if he becomes president? If he really believes, how could he ignore his beliefs? There's something wrong here...

      October 11, 2012 at 2:00 pm |
    • T-Max73

      No, let's worry about their religions because they both claim to make policy decisions and frame their worldviews around religious metaphysics. I am more than worried about grown men who believe that virgins can conceive, that men can be resurrected from the dead, and that Jesus will return one fine day and "separate the sheep from the goats."

      October 11, 2012 at 6:07 pm |
  7. ceejay08

    Paul Ryan's time would be better spent if, instead of focusing on cost cutting, he came up with more ideas on how to make sure the people paying for everything never run out of money.

    October 11, 2012 at 1:47 pm |
    • Scott

      I think that's the purpose. He isn't just proposing cuts for fun. He wants to tweak these programs so that they'll survive and be solvent, so that they can continue providing support.

      October 11, 2012 at 2:02 pm |
  8. Kris in AL

    Let's get it right.....Biden is a Catholic who challenges the Church with his votes in support of Abortion and Gay Marriage. Ryan is Pro-Life and Pro-Biblical Marriage.

    October 11, 2012 at 1:46 pm |
    • American

      Biden is a self-proclaimed Catholic in name only, and proving by his actions that he is no Catholic at all.The Catholic Church should disavow and distance itself from Biden once and for all.

      October 11, 2012 at 1:51 pm |
    • Joe from CT, not Lieberman

      Translation – Biden is capable of supporting causes that may be unpopular with the Church, but support the needs of the people who vote for him. Ryan promotes unflagging devotion to the Roman Catholic Church, but comes up with budget proposals that the Bishops believe do not support Church Teaching concerning helping those in need.
      Result – Neither is the "ideal" Roman Catholic candidate who would be pro-life, pro-traditional family, and would also support social programs that assist the less fortunate.

      October 11, 2012 at 1:53 pm |
    • Zandigra

      Joe from CT, you left out one other crucial difference between Ryan and Biden. Ryan's running mate is not waging war on religion and on the Catholic Church in particular the way Biden's running mate is doing.

      October 11, 2012 at 1:58 pm |
    • hawaiiguest


      LOL You actually bought into that nonsense? Here's a tip, not letting a religion do whatever the fuck they want isn't waging war. Not allowing them to break reasonable laws is not persecution.

      October 11, 2012 at 2:00 pm |
    • Zandigra

      The joke is on you hawaiiguest. The Church didn't break any laws. Rather, the Obama regime implemented an unprecedented piece of policy into a piece of legislation. Religious liberty is at stake, but the Obama regime will lose on this one, either at the voting booth or in the courts.

      October 11, 2012 at 2:06 pm |
    • hawaiiguest


      Obama already won in the courts, despite the misinformation from the religious right. The church thinks it gets to make its own rules in opposition to established federal laws, namely that a business that serves the public (a hospital for example) is not protected from federal standards as a church is. Schools funded exclusively by the church are not subject to federal standards, but universities, which get money from all kinds of places, and are also open equally to all peoples are. Learn the law, learn some logic.

      October 11, 2012 at 2:14 pm |
  9. Descarado

    All Catholic voters should check out "Test of Fire" on UTube.

    October 11, 2012 at 1:46 pm |
  10. It's Me

    Catholics will not be able to support the Democrats as long as they support non-traditional marriage (i.e. gay marriages) or abortions. Those two things go against a Christian beliefs.

    October 11, 2012 at 1:42 pm |
    • William Demuth

      But priests who bugger little boys on the altar consecrated with your beloved saviors blood is Okie Dokie?

      October 11, 2012 at 1:44 pm |
    • Jesus

      Gay Marriage Bad

      Priests touching little boys Good.

      October 11, 2012 at 1:54 pm |
    • brdwyguy

      As a Catholic, I AM APPALED at the support for WAR and the military, disguised as patriotism! Get this- GOD DOES NOT CONDONE WAR FOR ANY REASON! - Live it, Learn it!

      October 11, 2012 at 1:59 pm |
    • Jeff Cox

      Speak for yourself

      October 11, 2012 at 4:35 pm |
  11. William Demuth

    I shall be voting to make Jerry Sandusky ambassador to Libya,

    October 11, 2012 at 1:41 pm |
  12. G8R

    And the play for the sheep to conform begins...

    October 11, 2012 at 1:39 pm |
  13. chet

    Here we go again with the religion card, CNN has to play acard each time – this is a debate between two men! Black, White, Yellow, Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, Tall Short, Fat, Thin, young, old – shouldn't matter in anything!

    October 11, 2012 at 1:36 pm |
    • Jeff Cox

      Whether you like it or not, it's a first.

      October 11, 2012 at 1:43 pm |
    • Scott

      Agreed! The media will do anything to drum up a story, meaning they'll use race and religion to prop up something

      October 11, 2012 at 2:04 pm |
  14. Too Much

    Forget the fact that both parties refuse to act responsibly and constantly infringe on our freedoms. Instead lets talk about the fact that we have a catholic vs catholic VP debate....thats really important!

    October 11, 2012 at 1:33 pm |
  15. Billy Jack is healthy for children and other living things

    I'm catholic and I will be voting for H. Ross Perot and T. Boone Pickens as a protest vote. Perot warned us 20 years ago what would happen with free trade pacts– the giant sucking sound of jobs disappearing to cheaper labor markets– and Pickens' energy independence plan is spot on. We have the technology to mass produce natural gas and natural gas hybrid cars, we have the natural gas, and we have enough natural gas that if we combine it nuclear, solar, and wind we can get rid of petroleum based fuel oil and even dirty coal.

    Both parties are in near total agreement with free trade polices that have decimated the US manufacturing sector and have harmed the middle class. Time for America to stand up and demand a return to mercantilism. It works for Germany and China.

    October 11, 2012 at 1:31 pm |
    • William Demuth

      I am voting for King Charles.

      Nostalgia for the good old days

      October 11, 2012 at 1:42 pm |
    • Billy Jack is healthy for children and other living things

      @William Demuth:

      Funny response! Good post sir.

      October 11, 2012 at 2:02 pm |
  16. === o ===

    It is difficult to find good examples of Truth.

    But try this one – type "completely wrong images" into your Google search.

    October 11, 2012 at 12:59 pm |
    • === o ===

      It, in fact, returns images of what is completely wrong for America.

      October 11, 2012 at 1:02 pm |
    • Honey Badger Dont Care

      OMG. I haven't laughed that hard in a long, long time. I choked on my spit.

      October 11, 2012 at 1:19 pm |
    • 24 Hour Crisis Center


      October 11, 2012 at 1:55 pm |
  17. The Truth

    Isn't it the Catholic priests who regularly organ-ize the kids?

    October 11, 2012 at 12:56 pm |
    • William Demuth

      Just filling the little buggers with the "body of Christ"!!!

      October 11, 2012 at 1:19 pm |
    • Zandigra

      Don't you have a Klan meeting to attend?

      October 11, 2012 at 1:41 pm |
    • Jeff Cox

      Old news, chief.

      October 11, 2012 at 1:44 pm |
  18. Honey Badger Dont Care

    Who gives a rats azz? Religion is useless and outdated.

    October 11, 2012 at 12:52 pm |
  19. AG

    Kooky Uncle Joe – Wow that is scary.

    October 11, 2012 at 12:52 pm |
  20. Gene Gormley

    How dare that we allow the disgraced Roman Catholic Church to get involved in our politics! How dare two large political parties allow as a speaker a charlatan who paid thousands to pedophile priests to take a hike from his Milwaukee archdiocese. How dare representatives of a secular nation continue to shamelessly pander in formal settings by addressing a non-existent supernatural legend from ancient literature!

    And now, two more politicians will slice the Catholic bologna, as if it had any validity whatsoever.
    Perhaps as a show of unity they could share in a trans-millennial cannibal ritual. It would set the tone for unity in insanity.

    October 11, 2012 at 12:51 pm |
    • butch81385

      While the Catholic church has been disgraced due to scandals, I find it hilarious that you think that this precludes them from being a part of politics in any way. If that were the case, then all of the politicians should be out of politics because of their own personal scandals!

      October 11, 2012 at 1:39 pm |
    • JohnnyC

      As the Catholic Church goes, so goes the world. It is the Church Christ founded and the Catholic Faith is True, regardless of sinners and reprobates who have been nominally "Catholic" over the centuries. I understand the fact of the Catholic Faith and the Truth it reveals is disturbing to many people.

      October 11, 2012 at 1:40 pm |
    • Zandigra

      Hey Gene Gormley, how are things in North Korea?

      October 11, 2012 at 1:43 pm |
    • Joe from CT, not Lieberman

      JohnnyC, have you been getting into the sacramental wine again?

      October 11, 2012 at 1:57 pm |
    • bspurloc

      I'de say a few altar boys should be asked, but as we all know it is much much much more than a FEW that have been blessed with gay acts by the priests who preach anti gay rhetoric.....

      October 11, 2012 at 4:53 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.