Associated Press

Dallas visit offers Bush chance to appeal to Catholics


August 2, 2004, Monday, BC cycle

Dallas visit offers Bush chance to appeal to Catholics

BYLINE: By BOBBY ROSS JR., AP Religion Writer

SECTION: Political News

LENGTH: 770 words


President Bush on Tuesday will appeal to a key segment of voters who could help him in crucial swing states: Roman Catholics.

Bush is scheduled to address the annual international convention of the Knights of Columbus, the world’s largest lay Catholic organization with 1.7 million members. About 2,500 Knights and their families are expected at the convention in Bush’s home state, along with 60 bishops and 13 cardinals.

In an election in which the Democratic nominee, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, is a practicing Roman Catholic, it’s important for Bush to demonstrate support from Catholics, political experts said.

“It’s a great backdrop,” said David Leege, a University of Notre Dame political scientist who studies Catholic voting patterns. “There will be lots of clerical collars, and it’s an obviously Catholic lay organization. In terms of photo opportunities, it’s a way that you show that these are my people and they are supportive of me.”

Not since the election of John F. Kennedy, a Catholic, four decades ago has Catholicism been such an issue in the presidential campaign. At the same time, Bush and his political team started courting the Catholic vote long before Kerry became the nominee.

The nation’s 65 million Catholics constitute 27 percent of the electorate. Since 1972, no presidential candidate – including Bush – has won the popular vote without a majority of the Catholic vote.

In 2000, Democrat Al Gore won the popular vote but lost to Bush in the Electoral College. Gore claimed 50 percent of the Catholic vote, and Bush got 47 percent.

“If you look at some of the most contested states, some of the real swing states, they have large Catholic populations, places like Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania,” said Matthew Wilson, a Southern Methodist University political scientist who specializes in Catholics and politics.

While officially nonpartisan, the Knights of Columbus offer a particularly appealing Catholic audience for Bush, a United Methodist who frequently discusses his evangelical faith. Like Bush, the Knights stress the value of faith-based charitable work.

The conservative-leaning organization strongly supports Bush’s opposition to abortion and gay marriage.

Kerry, on the other hand, has upset some in the church hierarchy by supporting a woman’s right to have an abortion. He does not support gay marriage but says committed homosexual couples should be given all the legal rights married couples have.

“While Bush’s opponent is Catholic, Bush actually is more in step with the Catholic leadership positions than his Catholic opponent, which makes an interesting situation,” Wilson said.

Still, Bush’s decision to go to war with Iraq against the advice of Pope John Paul II could hurt him with Catholic voters, political experts said.

“That’s become a central issue for a lot of Catholic voters,” Leege said.

But not for Ronnie Bordelon, a 56-year-old independent from Meraux, La., who leans Republican. Like Kerry, Bordelon served in the Vietnam War. However, he said he does not care for Kerry.

“I know a lot of people are unhappy with everything that is going on with the Iraq situation, but you know, as they say, war is hell. He (Bush) said this from the get-go,” said Bordelon, festively dressed in a tall, cone-shaped hat with purple, green and yellow squares.

The Knights did not invite Kerry to speak. But spokesman Patrick Korten said that’s because the organization is nonpartisan.

“We have lots of Democrats who are members as well as Republicans,” Korten said. “As a matter of routine, we always invite the president.”

Lawrence Pearce, a 67-year-old Knight from Independence, Mo., who typically votes for Democrats, is torn between Bush and Kerry.

“I’m not really thrilled with Kerry, even though Kerry is supposedly Catholic. That would not affect the way I vote,” said Pearce, sporting a vest covered with 500 shiny Knight pins collected over three decades. “I vote on how people vote, and I’m a pro-life man.”

Likewise, Patricia Hull, the 48-year-old wife of a Knight from Throp, Wis., opposes abortion and gay marriage. But Hull, a Democrat, said she likes Kerry’s positions on economic issues.

“I think he’s more for the working person, the middle-income-type person,” said Hull, whose husband, Dan, a sheet metal worker, was recently laid off for 14 months. “I kind of do an all-around type view. I don’t just pick one issue.”

On the Net:

Knights of Columbus:

August 3, 2004, Tuesday, BC cycle
Bush gets enthusiastic response from Knights of Columbus

BYLINE: By BOBBY ROSS JR., AP Religion Writer

SECTION: Political News

LENGTH: 726 words


The Knights of Columbus, the fraternal organization of Catholic men known for flipping pancakes and raising millions for charity, touts itself as a nonpartisan organization.

A spokesman for the 1.7 million-member group stressed that the Knights invited President Bush to address their annual international convention Tuesday not as a political candidate – but as the U.S. head of state.

But somebody apparently forgot to tell the 2,500 Knights and their families who packed a Dallas hotel ballroom to hear Bush.

Chants of “Four more years!” erupted almost as soon as Bush entered the room. The crowd gave Bush four standing ovations even before Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson finished introducing him.

“He shares our beliefs,” said Robert Shone, a 66-year-old Knight from Boston. Shone described himself as a registered Democrat but said he plans to vote for Bush.

In an election in which the Democratic nominee, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, is a Roman Catholic, Tuesday’s event gave Bush, a United Methodist, a chance to reach out to what he knew would be a friendly, conservative Catholic audience, political experts said.

“Today is our opportunity to say, ‘thank you, Mr. President,”‘ Anderson, who served in the Reagan White House, said in his welcoming remarks.

Anderson thanked Bush for “restoring moral integrity to the Oval Office,” for stressing the importance of faith-based organizations in social work, for defending the words “Under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, for signing a bill banning late-term abortions, and for supporting marriage as a union between one man and one woman.

Despite the official pronouncement to the contrary, this was clearly a partisan, Bush-friendly crowd.

“The Knights of Columbus tend to be conservative Catholics and they’re very much attracted to the president’s human life agenda,” said David Leege, a University of Notre Dame political scientist who studies Catholic voting patterns.

Kerry, on the other hand, has upset some in the church hierarchy by supporting a woman’s right to have an abortion. He does not support gay marriage but says committed homosexual couples should be given all the legal rights married couples have.

Bush split the Catholic vote with Democrat Al Gore in the 2000 election and has steadily courted Catholic voters ever since, mindful that they represent about a quarter of the electorate. The president met with Pope John Paul II for the third time two months ago, a fact he reminded the Knights.

Knights interviewed after the speech were generous in their praise of Bush.

“He’s the most moral person, the most truthful person we have in the White House right now,” said Herbert Casalena, 67, from Wilmington, Del.

Reminded that Kerry is a fellow Catholic, Casalena replied, “He says he’s a Catholic, but he believes in abortion. He’s a downright hypocrite.”

Teresa Ullmer, a 32-year-old mother of four and wife of a Knight from Fargo, N.D., said of Kerry, “We keep him in our prayers. He doesn’t seem to be very sure of what he believes in.”

Outside the Hyatt Regency Dallas, Bush critics were much easier to find.

Before the president’s speech, Bill Betzen, a 56-year-old Catholic from Dallas, stood beside the street holding a sign aimed at the Bush-friendly Knights: “Please don’t forget, President Bush ignores our pope on death penalty & Iraq war. Thousands die.”

An additional 60 demonstrators lined a sidewalk near the hotel, chanting “Bush no more. Kerry-Edwards in ’04” and “three more months.” They waved signs in English and Spanish that criticized Bush’s policies on the economy, education and the war in Iraq.

The demonstration, organized by the Dallas County Democratic Party, drew activists and first-time protesters like Delight Vanleer of Dallas, who held a flag-draped sign scrawled with the number 915, which she said was the death toll of the war as of Tuesday.

Vanleer said her 27-year-old son just returned from Air Force duty in Iraq and the war is what compelled her to come out.

“We can’t have our kids murdered anymore,” said Vanleer, 57. “This is the strongest calling I’ve ever felt in my life. This does not need to be ignored or pushed under the rug.”

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