A well-connected authority in the evangelical world said in an interview this week that Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama could get up to 40 percent of the evangelical vote.
The fascination with the charismatic Illinois senator combined with evangelicals' effort to not be seen as an appendage of the Republican Party could swing evangelical voters in Obama's favor, predicted Mark DeMoss – a prominent public relations executive whose clients include Focus on the Family, Franklin Graham, and Campus Crusade for Christ – to Beliefnet.com.
"I will not be surprised if he gets one third of the evangelical vote," DeMoss said in the interview. "I wouldn't be surprised if it was 40 percent."
For comparison, the public relations guru pointed out that one-third of white evangelicals had voted for former president Bill Clinton in his 1996 re-election bid during the "height of [the] Monica Lewinsky mess."
"That's a statistic I didn't believe at first but I double and triple checked it," he said, "I would not be surprised if that many or more voted for Barack Obama in this election."
In terms of Republican presidential nominee John McCain, DeMoss spoke about the lack of enthusiasm within the evangelical circle for the candidate. He said that for months now he hasn't received an e-mail, letter, or phone call from fellow evangelicals urging that they unite behind McCain and "put aside whatever differences we have."
"It's just very quiet. It could mean there's a real sense of apathy or it could mean they're waiting for the general election to begin," he said. "But it's a surprise, given the way e-mail networks work now."
On McCain's part, he hasn't done much to reach out to DeMoss either. DeMoss said he has received one phone call from a McCain staffer about a month ago asking if he would like to help campaign for McCain. But the evangelical leader, who had enthusiastically campaigned for former presidential candidate Mitt Romney, turned down the invitation.
"I told him that I'm a conservative first and a Republican second," he said. "I was inclined to vote for Senator McCain but not to get involved beyond that."
DeMoss briefly mentioned the 2000 incident when McCain lashed out at his former boss, Jerry Falwell, and Pat Robertson. He later commented that McCain's recent rejection of the endorsements of Pastors John Hagee and Rod Parsley was a "mistake."
Although the two pastors have some controversial views on theology, both, in terms of values, support what many evangelicals hold dear, DeMoss contends.
"Here were two conservative religious pastors who were probably out on a limb supporting him," he said. "And he responds to criticism over comments they made and rejects them. That was a slap in the face to evangelicals who are already somewhat suspect of Senator McCain."
But whatever happens in this election, one thing DeMoss wants to make clear is evangelicals are not "absolutely Republican."
"Polls don't show that to be true," he said.