Catholics and the GOP

One of the more interesting findings from the Florida exit polls last week was how poorly John McCain did among those who are frequent church-goers. Among those who attend church more than once a week, McCain came in third with 24% of the vote, behind Mike Huckabee with 40% and Mitt Romney with 26%. Among those who attend weekly or monthly, Romney took 34% in both categories to McCain’s 33% and 31%. Among those who never go to church, McCain beat Romney 33% to 28%. McCain’s failure to attract church-goers was offset by the fact that he won among Catholics who attend church at least weekly with 37% to Romney’s 31%. Perhaps Catholics are suspicious of Romney’s tortured explanation of how he changed his once pro-choice views, but he seems to have convinced conservative Protestants on that score. Much of the Catholic vote in Florida is Latino, and they surely responded to McCain’s more humane approach to immigration reform. This bodes well for McCain next Tuesday in states with large Latino populations like California, New Mexico and his home state of Arizona. But, I suspect there is another reason and it has to do with McCain’s status as a war hero. Florida has many ethnic Catholics who once lived in the Northeast but who have retired to the Sunshine State. Many of them have remained loyal to the New Deal Coalition but others bolted the party in the late 1960s and 1970s when the Left became not just anti-Vietnam War but anti-American. In May 1970, after four students were killed at Kent State University, New York Mayor John Lindsay of New York ordered the flag over City Hall flown at half-mast, but a postal worker climbed up and raised the flag to full-mast. After an aide to the mayor set it back to half-mast, a group of construction workers, fresh from breaking up an anti-war rally, took control of the building until the flag was raised again. This incident began a wave of pro-war marches in Manhattan culminating with a march of some 60,000 to 150,000 people marching through lower Manhattan waving flags and singing patriotic tunes. The protests were organized by members of the building trades which is to say, a union dominated by ethnic Catholics. It is not difficult to imagine those workers, now retired to Florida, lining up to support Sen. McCain. On Tuesday, the ethnic Catholics who did not retire to Florida will get their say in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York and New Jersey. Romney should win his home state of Massachusetts but look for McCain to ride to victory in the other three states, all of which are winner-take-all primaries. Michael Sean Winters
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