The Religious Ron Paul, and Other Paul News of the Day


Chris Moody writing in Yahoo News focuses on Ron Paul's outreach to the communities of faith in Iowa. Some highlights w/commentary:

In stark contrast to how he campaigned four years ago, Paul has made a concerted push during this presidential campaign to emphasize how religion has shaped his policy ideas. Through public addresses, campaign advertisements and conversations with voters, Paul has engaged in an intentional effort to articulate the biblical roots of his philosophy. These efforts are most on display here in Iowa, where most Republican caucusgoers align themselves with socially conservative views, and where Paul is building what has become a robust organizational machine to connect with them.Paul has surged into second place in Iowa, according to several recent polls. The Real Clear Politics polling average for the state has Paul tied with Mitt Romney at 17 percent, behind Newt Gingrich's 30 percent.

Paul has brought several Christian conservatives onto his campaign in an ambitious effort to reach believers for his cause. Michael Heath, the campaign's Iowa director, previously worked for a New England-based group called the Christian Civic League of Maine that fought against adding sexual orientation to the state's Human Rights Act.

The national campaign has tasked Heath with leading church outreach in Iowa, where for months he has met with pastors and Christian congregations. "That's the biggest part of what I'm doing as state director," Heath told Yahoo News after a day of knocking on church doors with campaign literature. "Going to churches with a message in support of Dr. Paul's campaign that is very much faith-based and is also rooted in his commitment to a constitutionally defined limited federal government."

But it isn't necessarily winning them all over:

Prominent religious conservatives in Iowa, however, object that Paul does not apply his beliefs at the national level. Paul does not support a constitutional amendment to ban abortion, and he opposes a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. He thinks both issues should be left up to the states.

"I don't want the federal government dictating marriage definitions nor a position on right to life,"Paul said in March during an event at the University of Iowa. "It should be done locally. It'll be imperfect, probably, because every state won't be the same, but what is really bad is when you allow the federal government to define marriage and put the pressure and make the states follow those laws."

One of the things I would argue about in this Moody piece is the hook-driven need to claim this is new news or some concerted change of strategy, this whole business of Paul reaching out to the religious in Iowa. Paul's campaign also questions Moody's premise:

Paul's efforts to reach these voters are not new, his campaign aides say. He has worked for years to gain access to an inner circle of Iowa-based religious conservatives. David Lane, a California-based evangelical political activist, has organized off-the-record policy briefings with pastors across the country since the 1990s. These invitation-only meetings give local pastors an opportunity to meet Republican candidates and, until recently, Paul was never invited.

Lane, who helped organize Rick Perry's August prayer rally in Houston, received multiple requests from Wead to let Paul speak to the pastors. After two years of urging from Wead, Lane agreed to allow Paul to come to a meeting of 400 pastors on Nov. 14 at the Marriott hotel in Des Moines. Paul canceled campaign events in New Hampshire and flew straight to Des Moines, where he joined Gingrich and Perry and delivered his regular speech about how his political beliefs are rooted in the teachings of scripture.

The reactions from the pastors, who were already skeptical of Paul, were mixed. "The evangelical constituency has not been somebody that Ron Paul, as far as I can tell, has really reached out to," Lane told Yahoo News. "Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich are much more comfortable speaking to that constituency."

My notes no longer tell me who organized it, but I witnessed Paul speaking to a room full of about 60 evangelical pastors in Iowa in October 2007 at a meeting room in the airport in Des Moines, for this Reason cover feature. There, Paul used his occasional sense of political strategy to talk about two issues he had not talked about in his stump speeches that same week to college kids and general civilians: abortion and immigration.

The Moody Yahoo! story discusses Paul using specific Bible verses to defend specific positions. While I'm sure Moody did witness this, in the 20 or so Paul public appearances I've seen this election season, I never saw him do it once, so it is somewhat misleading to write that as if it has become a standard part of Paul's arsenal this season.

And, Bible quoting or no, I only saw him include abortion in his standard stump speech (which is never "standard" in a pre-written rehearsed way–Paul wings it fresh every time) once, and that was at the again strategically intelligent choice of the big crowd at the Ames Straw Poll in Iowa, the poll that Paul came in a very, very close second. (He did at least once in a speech I saw this year, but I think just once, refer to gold/hard money as "biblical money.")

Paul is by all accounts a sincerely religious man, but also sincerely dedicated to not trumpeting it much, and despite the implications of this Moody story, he still does not trumpet it much.

As Paul told Beliefnet in 2008:

some evangelicals get a little bit annoyed because I'm not always preaching and saying, "I'm this, I'm this, and this." I think my obligation is to reflect my beliefs in my life. I like the statement in the Bible that when you're really in deep prayer you go to your closet. You don't do it out on the streets and brag about it and say, "Look how holy I am." If a person has true beliefs and is truly born again, it will be reflected in their life.

Another exchange from that interview, which on the whole is required reading for those deeply concerned with the matter of Paul and religion, goes like this:

You caught some flack recently for quoting Sinclair Lewis on the Fox News Channel in response to a Mike Huckabee's TV ad that appeared to feature a cross. You said that "fascism would come to this country waving a flag and bearing a cross."

Unfortunately, that came up in dealing with Huckabee and it wasn't directed [at him]… that ad came out and I hadn't seen it and they asked me about the cross and that thing flashed across my mind.

Do you regret saying it?

Well I regret those circumstances, [but] the position is well taken. I think people should be cautious… because of people using [religion] and the insincerity. But I have not been judgmental. As a matter of fact, I've been strongly defending people. Even Mitt Romney—I don't defend the pros and cons of Mormonism, but I hate to see him picked on because somebody saying "I don't agree with the Mormon religion."

Reaching out to evangelic "values voter" is politically necessary in Iowa because there are so darn many of them. A Paul supporter who ran info tables for him at Iowa county fairs and other such public gatherings told me that the question he was most asked was: "What denomination is Ron Paul?" (Answer: Baptist, now, though raised Lutheran and married and raised children in the Episcopal Church.) I also found it interesting that this young man, who dedicated most of his summer to traveling around in his van promoting Ron Paul, had no idea how to answer the question–like with most Paul superfans, his religion just isn't an issue.

Thinking about Paul and Iowa and outreach to Christians, it is also worth bringing up this, from Paul grassroots organizers in the one county in Iowa that Paul actually won last go-round, Jefferson County (which in other religious news, is a huge center for Transcendental Meditation folk), stressing things they did not do in promoting Paul there:

What we did not do:

We had very little contact with traditional Republicans or the conservative Christian community.

We did not make phone calls to Republican or any registered voter lists. (we tried it, but found it disappointing.)

We did not focus on Ron Paul's positions on abortion or immigration (unless asked about them).

Now for a roundup of other Paul news and chatter of the moment:

*Billionaire Chronicles (for all your billionaire needs) is claiming that Ron Paul has zero billionaire financial supporters–even Rick Santorum has one.

*Real Clear Politics reports from the road with Ron in Iowa and points out a possible stumbling block given his assumed young-leaning base: the Jan 3 caucus date is during winter break so lots of college-age potential voters won't be around.

*Mother Jones admits Paul could win Iowa, but thinks he's got strong negatives that if brought to the fore by his foes would crush him after that.

*The Hill keeps talking about a Ron Paul third party run, even though Ron Paul is not.

*The Daily Caller has a quick Paul bit including skylarking about Vice President Ron Paul at that storied legend in the modern era, the brokered convention.

*And Vanity Fair with their continuing feature mocking the notion that the mainstream press doesn't pay attention to Ron Paul by paying lots of attention (usually light and minor, of course) to Ron Paul, features Ron Paul-themed petwear.