Can Obama Maintain the Support of Christian Democrats?

In 2008, then Sen. Barack Obama's platform of "hope and change" brought independent and Democratic Christian voters to the polls in high numbers. Yet keeping this flock intact may be more challenging as a result of some recent positions the White House has taken.

While some top officials at the Democratic National Committee express confidence in the president's reelection strategy, others are worried his support among Democrats that regularly attend church is faltering.

The Rev. Derrick Harkins, senior pastor of Nineteenth Street Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., is also the DNC's faith outreach director. He maintains that the party and President Obama have strong relationships with religious and faith-based groups and the support of 2008 remains solid.

But since President Obama announced his support of same-sex marriage in May, Harkins has had his hands full handling calls from supporters who are disappointed in the president's position. When dealing with these voters, his strategy centers around the fact that supporters of the president should not allow the GOP to hijack one or two issues and that Democrats should look past a single hot button issue in their support for Obama and Democrats in particular.

"I think we need to understand that values are not the property of one party," he told The Washington Post last month. "

However, the recent press conference held by the Coalition of African American Pastors taking issue with Obama on the issue of same-sex marriage may be proof that Harkins' theory is off base.

The Rev. Bill Owens of Memphis is a veteran of the civil rights movement of the 1960s and 70s and is the founder and spokesperson for the Coalition of African American Pastors.

"Do I think the president has put himself in some dangerous and unchartered waters this year? Yes I do," said Owens.

"Our opposition to homosexual marriage is not intended as a campaign statement, but is a position based on Scripture and God's Word. For President Obama to go against that position is going to make some black voters consider their options in the next election."

Other Democrats expressed concern that the Obama administration made no attempt to reach out to the faith-based community to explain the president's decision or its timing. Even the Rev. Joel Hunter – who is considered President Obama's "spiritual adviser" – expressed disappointment over the president's decision to embrace same-sex marriage.

University of Virginia religious studies professor Valerie Cooper expressed her concern that the White House is missing their opportunity to explain its positions to faith-based voters to lean to the left side of political fence.

"I think there is a viable religious left who can be persuaded by a carefully articulated religious argument, but no one is making it," Cooper told The Associated Press. "I get frustrated when I talk to evangelical friends or students and they ask, 'How can you be a Christian and a Democrat?'"

David Kennedy, author of You Voted for Who and You Call Yourself a Christian, believes many Christians who tend to vote Democratic are still supportive of President Obama.

"I think it's always a challenge for Democrat candidates to attract a significant portion of the 'church vote,'" Kennedy told The Christian Post. "But I don't see anything that President Obama has done that would drive away Christian Democrats."

When asked about the president's newly evolved position on same-sex marriage, Kennedy was still unfazed.

"Some Democrats may disagree with the president on that issue, but it's not a deal-breaker," Kennedy explained. "Most Democrats I know who regularly attend church put same-sex marriage behind the more important issues of social injustice. So I don't think Obama loses a lot of voters in November."

Nonetheless, exit polls have consistently shown that the more often a voter attends church, the more likely they are to vote Republican. To offset the discrepancy, in 2008 the Obama campaign organized "faith-house parties" to engage Catholics, moderate Christians and Jewish voters to build support.

The plan paid dividends because Obama received 26 percent of the evangelical vote versus the 21 percent Sen. John Kerry picked up in 2004.

But the issue to others is not so much that some Christian Democrats are frustrated with President Obama, but rather how the Romney campaign can convert those same voters.

"Romney has to convey the message to social conservatives and evangelicals that he is going to carry their water," said an evangelical leader who asked not to be identified. "It's one thing for a disgruntled voter to stay home, but the key is getting them to switch candidates. That's what Romney needs to focus on."

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