AirTalk for February 22, 2012

Religious rhetoric heats up in 2012 election, will it help or hurt candidates?

Jay LaPrete/Getty Images

Republican presidential candidate and former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum speaks during a Tea Party rally February 18, 2012 in Columbus, Ohio.

Former Pennsylvania senator, Rick Santorum is seeing a fairly dramatic surge in recent polling. He went from a back-of-the-pack nobody to a statistical tie with frontrunner Mitt Romney. And Santorum has one particular segment of the population to thank for his meteoric rise: religious people.

The Pew Center on Religion and Public Life follows religion in election years closely. In their latest report Santorum favorable numbers among white Evangelicals has nearly doubled in a month. Among white Protestants and Catholics his numbers have almost tripled.

Meanwhile, although the Pew report shows that Barack Obama leads either Romney or Santorum in a head to head match up, he trails both candidates with voters who attend religious services every week. Obama’s support among religious voters has become a political football of late with his compromise on birth control coverage a week ago.

Rick Santorum was just one voice among many calling the move anti-religion, and now he’s stepping up his attack on Barack Obama’s religious bona fides. This weekend he said Obama has a “phony theology” that’s not found in the bible. When asked to clarify the statement Santorum originally doubled down saying the Obama administration is oppressing religious freedoms. Later on Face the Nation Santorum told Bob Schaeffer that he doesn’t question the president’s faith saying “I accept the fact that the President is a Christian.” But that didn’t stop Santorum from calling the president “weak” on religious freedom issues.

Santorum has his own religious story in the news cycle. A four-year-old video of Santorum giving a speech at a religious college is making the rounds. In it he says that Satan is targeting America and that we’re in the middle of a “spiritual war.”

WEIGH IN:

Is this normal campaign rhetoric? Or is the religious back and forth unique to this election cycle? How big of an impact will religion and religious voters make on the 2012 election? Who benefits from making religion such a big part of presidential politics?

Guests:

Clyde Wilcox, Professor of Government, Georgetown University; Co-Author, “The Values Campaign?: The Christian Right and the 2004 Elections” (Georgetown University Press)

Kurt Fredrickson, Associate Dean for Doctor of Ministry and Continuing Education, and Assistant Professor of Pastoral Ministry, Fuller Theological Seminary


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