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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. czar33

    Warning Ryan likes his white-bread better than a communion wafer!

    October 11, 2012 at 2:37 pm |
  2. Greg C.

    Why does this even matter, CNN? Quit trying to foment strife went there shouldn't be unless you have talking points from the Romney camp to precede the debates...are we going to have a Religious debate, if so, there should be no restriction on Church pastors being able to say/do as they wish relative to conveying their political leanings etc. Let's park the religion discussion and focus on what matters most, our economy and our foreign policy.

    October 11, 2012 at 2:36 pm |
  3. dave

    It will be a great day when ALL religion is absent from ALL politics. Until then, it's nothing more than pandering to people over which imaginary man in the sky they believe in.

    October 11, 2012 at 2:36 pm |
  4. KB

    So they both go to Hell......big deal.

    October 11, 2012 at 2:36 pm |
  5. Sharon

    Biden and Ryan are representative of the views of two segments within the Catholic church. Biden is more in line with the nuns (on the bus), and Ryan with the ruling bishops. But even the bishops have come down very hard condemning Ryan's budget as being against church teachings in regards to its commission to aid the poor.

    October 11, 2012 at 2:34 pm |
  6. czar33

    My GF was wondering if Ryan has the "Irish curse" Meaning does he have a small one?

    OBAMA 2012 !!!!!

    October 11, 2012 at 2:33 pm |
  7. Theodoric of York

    I am SO glad I did not read this worthless article. Who cares what Catholics think about anything using their religious insanity?
    Joe Biden is a better man than Ryan and always will be. Ryan is no better than a cheap whore who couldn't tell the truth to save his life. Biden is more of an honest and honorable man. Ryan is a wretched reptile of a man. Not much of a contest.

    October 11, 2012 at 2:32 pm |
    • Dave

      THANK YOU! I could not care any less about what anybody's religious beliefs are. In fact, it makes me want to vote AGAINST anybody who campaigns based on their religion. It's ridiculous.

      October 11, 2012 at 2:37 pm |
  8. IslandAtheist

    wafers, let's get ready to crumble!

    October 11, 2012 at 2:28 pm |
  9. blaqb0x

    Is the the little old man from that palace in Rome going to moderate the debate?

    October 11, 2012 at 2:27 pm |
    • 0G-No gods, ghosts, goblins or ghouls

      Nope! Pope-a-Dope doesn't dare go to the USA for fear of being arrested for hiding pedophile priests.

      October 11, 2012 at 2:31 pm |
  10. Human be aware of hindu filthy dog's of hindu Atheism, self center ism , DENIAL OF TRUTH ABSOLUTE GOD.

    Catholic ism compound ism or no Compound ism, son of blessed Mary message was not hinduism, corruption of truth absolute called religion's but to live by truth absolute GOD, hinduism, denial of truth absolute GOD, is the way of hindu's lairs to hind, split humanity. disregard labels and follow truth absolute GOD, to make every decision and GOOD lord, truth absolute GOD will bless every one..

    October 11, 2012 at 2:25 pm |
    • KB

      He just may skip you......

      October 11, 2012 at 2:34 pm |
  11. KEVIN

    The article forgot to mention that they are both IRISH Catholics. This is a set up for a fist to cuff debate (with some humor). This debate is going to be big time influential to this campaign race.

    October 11, 2012 at 2:23 pm |
  12. Bob from San Francisco CA

    PROGRESSIVE GAYS LOVE: http://www.nambla.org/
    Lets place the blame EQUALLY. Probably CNN won't post this because they don't ALWAYS do facts, just when pushing something!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    October 11, 2012 at 2:22 pm |
  13. Herman

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b6f44HxdF_o&feature=player_detailpage

    October 11, 2012 at 2:20 pm |
  14. Kleary

    Biden is Catholic in name only- Catholics believe in what marriage is and it is between one man and one woman – Catholics believe abortion for any reason is murder and they profess filial obedience to the Roman pontiff. Biden you are not a Catholic you wolf in sheep's clothing!

    October 11, 2012 at 2:20 pm |
    • charli

      So what is Ryan then ? LOL

      October 11, 2012 at 2:47 pm |
  15. charli

    Paul Ryan is NOT Catholic. he goes to church strictly for political reasons. Ryan is a atheist, a devote follower of Ayn Rand not God. "There is no better place to find the moral case for capitalism and individualism" a quote from Ryan in 2005. Look I dont actually hold it a against him being a atheist. I think we would be better off if all our leaders were atheists. I just don't care for him lying about it.

    October 11, 2012 at 2:19 pm |
    • Scott

      OH, you mean like your beloved BoBo lying that it is a Christian instead of telling the truth that it will be whatever religion will get it the most votes.

      Scott

      October 11, 2012 at 2:21 pm |
    • NObama

      Looks like he took a page out of Obama's book....go to Rev. Wrights church for 20 years....but hes muslim...or christian?

      October 11, 2012 at 2:26 pm |
    • charli

      Not sure what these replies have to do with my post ?? My post has nothing to do with religious preference.

      October 11, 2012 at 2:45 pm |
  16. Padraig

    As a Catholic I don't find this fascinating that both individuals are Catholic. It is interesting that Mr. Broderick Johnson coment of – “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.” Moral test?

    The true moral test for any Catholic is the preservation of life, the right to life, Pro Life. The Obama and Biden stance is Pro Choice, abortions are acceptable. In the Catholic faith and truly following the Catholic doctrine the direction is Pro Life. That is the Catholic Church position, no debates, no arguments, that is their direction. Within the Catholic Church there are many charities and stewardships and it is always stressed to support others no matter of race, creed, or religon. It has been like this for a very long time.

    Mr. Johnson statement and his direction is a position of a hypocrite.

    October 11, 2012 at 2:18 pm |
    • Jeff Cox

      There's more to respecting life than focusing only on a fetus. And that's discussed in the "Faithful Citizenship" program the Church runs every election year.

      Regardless, THIS Catholic understands ... and accepts ... that Catholics are far out-weighed in the country's population, and laws have to be made to respect all beliefs, not just Catholics.

      I'm not interested in a theocracy, chief. That's in NO one's best interest!

      October 11, 2012 at 2:39 pm |
  17. mikey

    Liberation Theology and Social Justice are code words for marxism/leninism that the "nuns" use to sell communist doctrine. They support Obama because Obamacare will dump hundreds of millions of dollars into their system of hospitals. For years the Campaign for Human Development and in some part Catholic Charities have supported Acorn cuases like open borders and support of world healthcare, all supported by the U.S. Taxpayer.

    October 11, 2012 at 2:16 pm |
  18. Waterchestnut III

    I'm a wealthy, white, bigoted and misogynistic christian white male. I assume everyone is lazy. The 47% are worthless, and the other 52% ain't much better.

    And even I can't stand Paul Ryan!

    October 11, 2012 at 2:15 pm |
  19. czar33

    Yes! Biden (English surname) is a Roman Catholic, but there is deference. Ryan is a lying IRISH Roman-Catholic.
    I am a Polish-Roman Catholic and would NEVER go into an Irish church; except for a funeral, I go into all places of worship! There is only one GOD; no-matter what you call him, God is God, but I can’t go into an Irish church, because MOST of them are liars and do not support their church and in return the clergy steals money from all of the ETHNIC Roman Catholic Church.
    Now come on people. I need some Polish Brother and sisters to back me up! Where are you Northeastern PA, Chicago, Detroit?
    One other thing 83% of the Roman Catholic clergy that caught touching under age children have Irish-Roman-Catholic surnames(last name)

    October 11, 2012 at 2:14 pm |
    • Scott

      Skip our meds today did we?

      Scott

      October 11, 2012 at 2:20 pm |
    • Padraig

      Imbecile comes to mind when I read this type of garbage.

      You are an excellent Catholic, a racist bigot. Perfect. A real two legged balwan

      October 11, 2012 at 2:27 pm |
  20. czar33

    Yes! Biden (English surname) is a Roman Catholic, but there is deference. Ryan is a lying IRISH Roman-Catholic.
    I am a Polish-Roman Catholic and would NEVER go into an Irish church; except for a funeral, I go into all places of worship! There is only one GOD; no-matter what you call him, God is God, but I can’t go into and Irish church, because MOST of them are liars and do not support their church and in return the clergy steals money from all of the ETHNIC Roman Catholic Church.
    Now come on people. I need some Polish Brother and sisters to back me up! Where are you Northeastern PA, Chicago, Detroit?
    One other thing 83% of the Roman Catholic clergy that caught touching under age children have Irish-Roman-Catholic surnames(last name)

    October 11, 2012 at 2:13 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.