Is There Any Grace for Obama with Evangelicals?

What’s the pulse of the evangelical vote? Does McCain have the runaway advantage or is there still room for Barack Obama to woo this powerful sleeping giant?

HALLANDALE BEACH-THE VOICE/Advancing Christian Life & Culture

Did Sen. John McCain’s one-two-three punch of a compelling performance at the Saddleback Civil Forum, the choice of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin for vice president, and the soon-to-follow testimony about his war hero days seal the deal with Christian voters? Or is there room for Senator Barack Obama to win the support of evangelicals?

The Voice magazine put that question to Charles W. Dunn. Dunn is the dean of the Robertson School of Government at Pat Robertson’s Regent University.

Dunn’s former political posts include serving as a special assistant to the Minority Whip of the United States House of Representatives, deputy director of the Republican Conference in the House, and chief of staff to a United States Senator from New York. He is known as one of the foremost scholars in the field of American politics and religion.

Is there any room for Obama? There was before the Saddleback Civil Forum. But McCain closed the door on the Democratic hopeful from Illinois that night, according to Dunn. Thanks to an “abysmal performance,” Obama’s window of opportunity, he says, began to close that night. By contrast, Dunn explains, McCain’s performance was outstanding.

OBAMA’S SHIFTING MOMENTUM

“McCain was almost Reganesque in answering some of those questions. Obama’s negatives have been going up and when your negatives get too high that spells death for a politician. Obama’s are negatives are not so high yet that he couldn’t win but his negatives have gone up, his overall poll numbers have gone down, he has lost ground amongst some key constituencies,” Dunn says.

“On the other hand, McCain’s numbers have gone up. Let’s just say it’s a dead-heat at this point,” Dunn notes. “McCain has given pretty much all the right answers that most evangelicals want to hear except for the far-left evangelicals. So to the extent that Obama has an opportunity with the evangelicals, it’s pretty well limited to the far-left and there aren’t that many of them.”

McCAIN’S EVANGELICAL ADVANTAGE

Dunn says he tried to study the audience response at Saddleback to gauge the overall reaction. His conclusion: McCain won the crowd over, despite a few left-leaning evangelicals in the congregation – and he did it by pressing the right buttons on key issues in a believable way.

“Obama speaks in nuanced ways,” Dunn says. “Evangelicals do not respond to nuance, they respond to direct forthright statements, and McCain gave them just that. McCain has a life story and he has all the subplots in his story and evangelicals like stories. So McCain is giving out stories and Obama is giving these nuanced lectures with these long pauses and that was creating uncertainty in the minds of the hearers.”

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