The Romney-Ryan ticket is the first Republican presidential campaign in history without a Protestant candidate, but this hasn’t deterred evangelicals from launching massive get-out-the-vote and registration efforts to help Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan win the White House.
Faith and Freedom Coalition founder Ralph Reed, who has been involved in pushing evangelicals to the polls since 1988, has launched what he described as the “largest voter registration, voter mobilization and get-out-the-vote effort ever targeted at evangelical voters,” specifically those who would be new additions to the voter rolls.
Reed’s effort targets not only presidential swing states but also those with critical Senate and House races to help elect conservatives down ballot as well.
Working with third-party contractors, Reed and his group were able to identify and mail voter registration packets to slightly less than 2 million unregistered evangelicals based on everything from Census data to television preferences to what books they may have purchased online.
“There are millions of Bibles purchased in the United States every month. Most people aren’t interested in finding out who is buying those Bibles — I am,” Reed said.
Reed said he has a voter file of 17 million evangelicals in battleground states, and each household will be contacted seven to 12 times before the election through mail, email, phone calls and text messages.
“If they live in an early voting state, they got a text message the day early voting began, we broadcasted out at 7 a.m. on their cellphones,” Reed said. The text message includes links to the Faith and Freedom Coalition voter guide and to a website that will instruct people where they can cast their ballot nearby.
Mark DeMoss, an adviser to the Romney campaign who has served as the liaison to the evangelical community, said the evangelicals have largely taken it upon themselves to organize for the upcoming election.
“Every day I’m hearing about some outreach effort that’s actually taking place independent of the campaign,” he said.
Chris Long, president of the Ohio Christian Alliance, a conservative, nonpartisan, nonprofit group, said more than a million voter guides will be distributed to churches and community groups across the state for guidance on issues as well as federal and state races.
A recent Pew Research poll showed that 74 percent of white evangelicals support Romney, a percentage point higher than Sen. John McCain when he was the Republican nominee.
The allegiance of evangelical voters hasn’t come easy for Romney.
Throughout the Republican primaries they tended to back more conservative candidates such as former Sen. Rick Santorum, in part because of their discomfort with some of Romney’s past positions as well as his Mormon faith. Several conservative Christian leaders have pointed to the selection of Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate — a Catholic with sterling conservative credentials — as another sign Romney was willing to stand up for their issues.
Long said that although there was some initial hesitation from evangelicals because of Romney’s faith, that time has passed.
“I have not heard that in the last three or four months. No one brings that up as any kind of issue at all,” he said. “They are looking at the candidates as who would be the executive of this republic and would be suited to do that.”
Nancy French, co-founder of Evangelicals for Mitt — a group formed in 2006 that is not officially connected to the campaign — said for years members felt like their message wasn’t getting through to fellow evangelicals. That changed after Romney won the nomination, she said. “Evangelicals rallied around Gov. Romney with a unity that shocked most people, including us. Our mission was accomplished by Barack Obama’s leftist policies.”
Though churches have long been a staple of Republican organizing, the Obama campaign is also courting people of faith.
Obama released a “faith platform” this year that is heavy on social and economic justice issues, and the campaign has hired a director of faith outreach named Michael Wear. In a column on a Christian blog called “Faithful Democrats,” Wear wrote Monday (Oct. 15), “While we each have a responsibility to engage in the political process, a vote for a candidate doesn’t have to be a declaration that their views fully represent our own. For people of faith, we hold to a set of beliefs that transcend and supersede any political platform.”
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