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. James

    Jesus was not a catholic or protestant. Jesus was Jesus, a holy man who had some great lessons to teach to get people of that time and all times to re-examin their beliefs and practices in view of some of the crazy things in the Bible. His ideas and teachings can be summed up in these words " love thy neighbour". I am a catholic and go to church every week-end and other holy days. I can tell you that the 'love thy neighbour' ideal is not what I see in church. Is it any wonder that attendance is dwindling? Even the priests are not welcoming and seem to be more interested in how much money is deposited in the collection baskets.

    October 11, 2012 at 3:10 pm |
    • Jack

      Jesus was a Jewish rabbi reformer. Some Jews thought he was the Messiah and some didn't.

      October 11, 2012 at 3:21 pm |
  2. Whocares

    This is what Romney believes about Black people...... So if you ask me no one is as religous as the claim to be

    The first reference in Latter Day Saint writings describing dark skin as a curse and mark from God refers to Lamanites. The Book of Mormon, published in the late 1820s, states the following about a group of people who rebelled against God:

    And [God] had caused the cursing to come upon them, yea, even a sore cursing, because of their iniquity. For behold, they had hardened their hearts against him, that they had become like unto a flint; wherefore, as they were white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome, that they might not be enticing unto my people, the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them. And thus saith the Lord God; I will cause that they shall be loathsome unto thy people, save they shall repent of their iniquities." (2 Nephi 5:21)

    October 11, 2012 at 3:10 pm |
    • doug

      what about Harry Reid, he is a Mormon too....

      October 11, 2012 at 6:00 pm |
  3. Greg C.

    PEOPLE!!!! Can't you see, this is CNN's attempt to divide on the basis of religion...Don't play the game...regardless of your party; don't be a victim of the media trying to create something out of nothing.

    October 11, 2012 at 3:08 pm |
  4. Lar5

    No it's not Catholic vs Catholic. It's much more than that and abortion,it's principles. Romney, Ryan and the GOP have a very horrible agenda to take back their country to the time of lily white zealot driven control of everyone's life. They want to push women, blacks,Latinos and other ethnics back to where the zealots of the right believe they belong. The want to go back to a time that was comfortable only for them.The GOP does not believe "all men and women are created equal'. They are very comfortable herding people to the back of the bus. That's their unprincipled agenda.

    October 11, 2012 at 3:02 pm |
    • Buddy

      You might want to look up the definition of zealot

      October 11, 2012 at 3:11 pm |
  5. Paul

    The premise of this story is to compare Biden and Ryan, but the author spends the vast majority of the article questioning Ryans commitment to the church while failing to mention that Biden's hands are stained with the Blood of countless aborted children, one of the gravest of sins in the Church. Instead the author purports to say that Ryan not thinking that having the government take from one to give to another in any way compares to such an act. Having the government take from one group to give to another is not christian. Having the one group directly give to another is christian. If you have no choice but to give money to the poor through taxes, you have not done good. If you use your power as a governmental official to take money from one to give to another you have done no good. Democrats are consistantly the least charitable people in the nation but they have no problem demanding through the force of law that others be charitable for them. It's time that the democrats learned that being charitible and christ like means giving when you have a choice, not when you don't. The tax collector was hardly a role model that Jesus extoled, in fact their appearance in the Gospels is only in reference to their sinful state and seeking forgivness, and giving back the money from those they taxed. Wow, that sounds like what Ryan is suggesting! So how can the democrats think that the tax man now is virtuous when he was reviled as Jesus walked the earth.

    October 11, 2012 at 3:02 pm |
  6. bob

    This article makes little sense. I'm Catholic and I don't know any of my Catholic friends that support Joe Biden and the democrats. The big issue for Catholics in this election is religious freedom, and many Catholics believe the President is trying to take that away.

    October 11, 2012 at 3:00 pm |
    • Paul

      In 2008, Catholics from all walks of life and backgrounds came together to help elect Barack Obama as President of the United States. Today, we join together as Catholics who are committed to our faith and our country to endorse President Obama for re-election.


      October 11, 2012 at 3:04 pm |
    • old joe

      Are you kidding me? I might understand your concerns about current admin., but you think you're going to have more religious freedom if Repubs take over the executive office? Really? They are already trying to rewrite history against separation of church and state and you want to give them more ammunition? Are you for real?

      October 11, 2012 at 3:05 pm |
    • Paul

      President Obama understands Catholics and our values, because he understands the importance of an active faith in pursuit of the common good. This has guided him from his work with Catholic churches on the South Side of Chicago through his career as a public servant.

      The President is right: This is a make-or-break moment for the middle-class, and it is a make-or-break moment for America. President Obama’s record, his character, and his values make the choice in this election clear. We are proud to stand with the President, and we look forward to joining millions of Catholics in this country in casting our vote for Barack Obama.

      October 11, 2012 at 3:06 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV


      apparently you only know half the Catholics (I wonder which ones). As a group, Catholics are traditionally the most evenly split group there is on political lines.

      R / D / I
      Total Catholic ....... 26% ... 35% ... 35%
      White Catholic ....... 31% ... 29% ... 37%
      Hispanic Catholic .. 15% ... 49% ... 32%

      October 11, 2012 at 3:09 pm |
    • melissa

      I agree with you Paul. I know that many people are hurting financially, but with our current population and overall financial troubles, I believe people are expecting too much change too quickly and their impatience makes them want to whatever the next flavor it is without serious consideration. I was hoping the Republicans would have offered a much better option to consider. I have no problem with people's religion, but I just do not trust Romney nor Ryan. I can't feel confident that they will stick with any platform; it's pretty obvious.

      October 11, 2012 at 3:16 pm |
    • melissa

      I'm sorry – I meant to say "want whatever the next flavor"

      October 11, 2012 at 3:17 pm |
    • ;p;

      Then you haven't been paying attention, bob. Stop listening to whatever nonsense you hear in church and try doing some research. Stopping you from forcing the entire country to adhere to your beliefs does not = endangering your religious freedom. It's the rest of the country trying to protect themselves from you.

      October 11, 2012 at 3:20 pm |
  7. Joe the agnostic

    THATS IT !!! Holy Water at 5 paces...Ryan melts, Biden wins. Debate over.

    October 11, 2012 at 2:59 pm |
  8. DontPretend

    Well, regardless of the issues discussed in this debate or the candidates' preparedness for the debate, one thing is certain: little boys should be very afraid.

    October 11, 2012 at 2:58 pm |
  9. ImIrish

    I know Catholics, and Joe Biden is no Catholic. Yeah, we're not supposed to judge others, but if it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck.......

    October 11, 2012 at 2:56 pm |

    • ... is something you'd like to fuck?

      October 11, 2012 at 2:57 pm |
    • old joe

      Well why don't you impress us with some details. Otherwise you're just hot air.

      October 11, 2012 at 2:59 pm |
    • Jack

      No. You don't know Catholics. I am Catholic. Ryan is a Pope Pius the XII kind of Catholic. Women were second class. Nazis were all right. Mothers could die before they'd be allowed an abortion. Divorced people, even if their spouses abused them, went to hell. I, like Biden, am a Pope John XXIII /Vatican II Catholic. We care about the poor, the sick, the impoverished everywhere. We all have an obligation to help our fellow men and women. We are required to volunteer our time and give money to those in need. Ryan is of the self-righteous/self-absorbed kind of pre-Vatican II Catholic. Biden is Catholic in the real sense of the word–catholic being all inclusive.

      October 11, 2012 at 3:05 pm |
    • OnlyOne

      You "know" Catholics? Well, as a Catholic let me inform you that you don't know Jack about Catholics or Catholicism.

      October 11, 2012 at 3:06 pm |
    • ;p;

      What does he need to do to be in your special club? Molest an altar boy?

      October 11, 2012 at 3:21 pm |
  10. Snow

    So, a guy who got boo'ed and kicked out of a catholic collage for being un-catholic is the savior of catholic faith now? really? and people do not see the problem with that logic?

    October 11, 2012 at 2:52 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      Because we already have a savior what we need is a good chief executive and VP

      October 11, 2012 at 2:58 pm |
    • ;p;

      Already got that, Bill! Just need to keep you catholics from getting any more power.

      October 11, 2012 at 3:22 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      If you think buying Chevy Volts for more than list is more important than providing security for our Ambassador to Libya then you've got your man

      October 11, 2012 at 4:39 pm |
    • Douglas

      "If you think buying Chevy Volts for more than list is more important than providing security for our Ambassador to Libya then you've got your man"

      Bill, you haven't been watching the hearing have you, they asked for that security long before Obama took office.

      October 11, 2012 at 4:45 pm |
    • billdeacons

      So it's Bush's fault LMAO I can't believe you're even sticking with that at this point.

      October 11, 2012 at 10:52 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      billdickwit, I can't believe you don't have a point. Oh, wait. Yes, I can.

      October 11, 2012 at 10:55 pm |
  11. === o ===

    "Sorry to disappoint", but between Rummy and Ryan and the RNC, can it be any more of a farce the way they generalize or oppose each other one day only to have Rummy flip-flop and confuse everyone? America deserves a much straighter answer than they are getting this close to the election from those bozos. The abortion issue is a perfect example. These idiots couldn't come up with a clear stance on anything if they tried. I don't think they are even trying. What a bunch of clowns.

    October 11, 2012 at 2:52 pm |
  12. Benjamin

    Biden is not Catholic. He rejects most of what the Church teaches.

    October 11, 2012 at 2:50 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      But not Paul Ryan? And you base this on what exactly?

      If you asked the Catholic Bishops I wonder if their answer would be the same?

      October 11, 2012 at 2:52 pm |
    • old joe

      Catholicism is a shining example of how Christians put down or discredit other Christians when it is politically necessary to do so. They can't help it. The ability and justification to do so are built into the religion.

      October 11, 2012 at 2:56 pm |
    • Ricky Cobb

      That's a fact. Believe what you want, vote for who you want – but Ryan is certainly more in line with Catholic doctrine when you look at the complete context of their positions. This isn't even in question – except for people that don't understand what the Church teaches and/or wish to distort facts.

      October 11, 2012 at 2:57 pm |
    • OnlyOne

      Rubbish. He's at odds with Catholic Teachings on one, and only one point. Meanwhile, Ryan's an Ayn Rand fanatic. His budget proposal was so un-Catholic that he prompted the Nuns on a Bus movement – that's saying something.

      October 11, 2012 at 3:09 pm |
    • ;p;

      @onlyone- exactly!

      October 11, 2012 at 3:23 pm |
  13. DogHair

    Sorry to disappoint, but no matter what he claims, Biden is no more a Catholic than John Kerry or Kathleen Sibelius or any other politicians who choose political expediency, votes and position at the expense of betraying the Faith! Better he should simply admit he doesn't agree with the Church's teaching and stop pretending to be something he isn't, namely "Catholic"! Nobody but nobody who will vote in support of Obama & Biden will do so because either of them claim a faith they clearly do not practice!!

    October 11, 2012 at 2:42 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV


      ANNOUNCER: Welcome to today' newest game show "Who's more Catholic?"


      ANNOUNCER: Our contestants tonight are both candidates for Vice President of the United States.


      ANNOUNCER: So let's find out shall we?



      October 11, 2012 at 2:46 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      ANNOUNCER: "Mr. Biden, when did you last attend mass? Did you participate in communion, and as a follow-up, did you have the stain of sin on your soul?

      ANNOUNCER: "Mr. Ryan, the same question for you."

      October 11, 2012 at 2:48 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      Don't be silly. Every Catholic I know is no more Catholic than Joe Biden. Besides, every Catholic is more Catholic than another Catholic.


      October 11, 2012 at 2:51 pm |
    • The Truth

      I know this is like trying to explain calculus to a kindergartener, but Joe Biden is a Catholic and President Obama is a Christian. You just prefer lying to yourself because you can't accept that someone who professes belief in the same imagined God as you would be a caring and considerate humanist.

      October 11, 2012 at 2:58 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      ANNOUNCER: "Mr. Ryan, so, what did you give up for Lent, not your P90X workout routine eh?

      AUDIENCE: Laughter, applause

      ANNOUNCER: "Mr. Biden, how about you? Did you give up beer for Lent?

      AUDIENCE: Laughter, applause

      October 11, 2012 at 2:59 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      or profess unrestricted access to abortion

      October 11, 2012 at 3:00 pm |
    • ;p;

      That's right Bill – don't let crazy things like facts get in your way. Make it sound like free abortions for everyone! Let's give out 2 for one coupons in case it's twins!!

      October 11, 2012 at 3:24 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      The Democratic Party strongly and unequivocally supports Roe v. Wade and a woman's right to make decisions regarding her pregnancy, including a safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay. We oppose any and all efforts to weaken or undermine that right.

      What does this say?

      October 11, 2012 at 4:42 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV


      I know you're a thougtful guy. Abortion is not a trump card here and it would surprise me to learn that you are a single-issue voter.

      A candidate can be pro-choice in the civic space by endorsing laws that support a woman's right to choose, and maintain a personal belief that it is wrong for a woman to choose to have an abortion.

      You can't play a game of selective moral absolutism. While it remains contentious, this country has respected a woman's right to choose for 40 years. Catholic church teaching may be clear on this topic, but like it's mirror-twin (contraception), I suspect Catholics will personally be divided on the topic.

      October 11, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
    • billdeacons

      GOP you are correct Catholics will be divided but my point is that they should not be. American civil society has the right and option to provide any level of abortion they can get the government to approve and folks who want to exercise that legal privilege may do so. My point is aimed directly at Catholics and I do not even really expect non Catholics to respond to the argument. The catechism could not be clearer that the right to life is fundamental and the foundational right to personal property as well as the neccessary basis for sound social justice. It simply cannot be any other way. So when i ask Catholics about the right to life, i am really calling them to learn their faith and the cornerstone of Catholic teaching which is comprehensively the sanctiity of human life. When you strip away all the window dressing, it actually is the only issue.

      October 11, 2012 at 11:01 pm |
  14. Albert

    Go Ryan no matter what people talk trash about Paul Ryan, I am Pakistani catholic and personal experience with Irish Catholic always remarkable. Irish catholic has contributed more to Catholic church then other races. 2012 will be year of Romney and Ryan

    October 11, 2012 at 2:41 pm |
    • ;p;

      It's probably not legal for you to vote – let's see your ID card

      October 11, 2012 at 2:48 pm |
    • victoria

      Biden is Irish too. Simple google search will tell you that

      October 11, 2012 at 3:07 pm |
  15. Throb Roberts

    Okay, since nobody really gives a damn about the vice president, I say we change the debate format into something a bit more theatrical.

    In the first round they dress in campy womes outfits and torch-sing their positions while fleeing man-eating aardvarks. Then they must answer questions about their positions while attached to a lie detector that automaticalls tazes them when they lie. Finally, they must joust repeatedly on bicycles holding brooms.

    Or maybe we just turn the channel and watch Hogan's Heroes.

    October 11, 2012 at 2:41 pm |
  16. czar33

    Thats LOVES his white-bread
    Ryan the IRISH-CATHOLIC LOVE his white-bread better than a communion wafer!

    October 11, 2012 at 2:41 pm |
  17. czar33

    Ryan the IRISH-CATHOLIC LOVE his white-bread better than a communion wafer!

    October 11, 2012 at 2:39 pm |
  18. Bomber

    The year 2012 in America and this religious BS is still a topic! Talking about talking to invisible people. We might as well have the two of them debate UFOs and Bigfoot while we're at it.

    October 11, 2012 at 2:38 pm |
  19. czar33

    Did you know that Ryan likes his white-bread better than a communion wafer!

    October 11, 2012 at 2:38 pm |
  20. shane

    The true question is "What would Jesus Do?" He would actually pray for both candidates. He would not approve action and policies from either party. There are not two parties in God's house. The Obama Health Care challenges the trueist beliefs of our Catholic Faith. If Biden was a "True Catholic" and followed those beliefs he would not and can not support his boss and the health care bill. He also could not support the killing of babies through abortion. Now Ryan could not write or support these same fundamentals along with not supporting the poor. If you are a true follower of Jesus Christ you must cast a vote for the person who does not violate these beliefs. We complicate this debate. We make it a debate and it's actually a very simple issue. We are demanded by our Jesus to vote our conscience. If you truly understand your beliefs, requirements, and live in the real world this descisssion is simple. God Bless.

    October 11, 2012 at 2:37 pm |
    • Jack

      How could a good Christian NOT support the Affordable Health Care Bill? All Catholics are required to help the sick and those in need. This is one of the most Christian of legislations ever–as was much of what FDR did. We have a duty to help others and we have a duty to make our government help others. BTW, Jesus was a middle-class Jew who gave EVERYTHING he owned away and expected all his followers to do the same in order to get into Heaven.

      October 11, 2012 at 3:15 pm |
    • OnlyOne

      "We are demanded by our Jesus to vote our conscience"? Where exactly did He say that? You must be Catholic – when was the last time you read the Bible?

      Are you familiar with "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's"? The election is merely Caesar's. You are expected to do your civic duty – and that's all there is to it. Anyone making out your vote to be an issue with your salvation is a demagogue. It is of these people that Jesus says: "But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea" (Matthew 18:6)

      Jesus was steadfastly apolitical, and despite there being much evil in the world at that time (including slavery), the only side that Jesus took was with the poor that he healed, clothed, fed. He didn't back the Jews against the Romans, nor the Pharisees against the Sadducees. His interest was in the salvation of the soul, not the body – as should be the goal of every TRUE Catholic.

      October 11, 2012 at 3:27 pm |
    • justiggs

      Well said, sir, well said.


      October 11, 2012 at 4:18 pm |
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