McCain’s Life Easier After Saddleback

Christianity Today sat down with Marlys Popma, president of Iowa’s Right to Life Committee, former deputy national political director for Gary Bauer’s 2000 presidential campaign, and current Evangelical outreach coordinator for John McCain.  During the discussion, Popma suggests that McCain’s appearance at the Saddleback faith forum was such a success that it’s actually made it less necessary for the campaign to openly court the Right:  

McCain just spoke at Rick Warren’s forum, he met with Billy and Franklin Graham, and he met with evangelicals in Ohio. What is the campaign doing to reach out to evangelicals, other than these meetings?

Those meetings are less important than after Saddleback, but they were still important. It’s very important that we touch leadership in groups or one at a time. We plan to make a visit with leadership in priority states. We also send regular e-mails to the individuals whom we have identified in our group. We recently put out a piece on John’s faith. It’s mostly getting John McCain’s conservative message out to the grassroots.

Of course, that doesn’t mean the campaign is letting up.  In fact, Popma reports that whenever she meets with right-wing activists, the one issue she makes sure to drive home is judges:

When you talk to evangelicals about voting for John McCain, what’s your pitch?

The first thing I talk about is judges. We need judges who believe in the original intent of the Constitution and show great jurisprudence, who do not legislate from the bench and are constructionists. We are one judge away from the reversal of Roe v. Wade. There are many other points: that John McCain has had a 24-, 25-year pro-life message. He stands for marriage between one man and one woman. He has a great compassion for individuals as a whole, not only in this country, but also abroad. He and his wife are extremely philanthropic. Cindy is involved with HALO and Operation Smile. I just think that as a team, Sen. McCain and his wife, Cindy, reach the heart of what an evangelical Christian is.

If McCain and his wife really do “reach the heart of what an evangelical Christian is,” that must come as a surprise to Rob Schenck, who just announced that McCain is not an Evangelical at all.  

But despite seemingly having the herculean task of selling McCain to the Religious Right, to hear Popma tell it, her job couldn’t be easier because McCain is the total right-wing package: 

We understand on this campaign that there are essentially two groups in which we look for evangelicals. One is what I call “movement conservatives.” Those are individuals who have for years been working for the unborn and working hard to make sure that the definition of marriage is between one man and one woman. There is also a young emerging group of people who have broadened their scope. They haven’t neglected marriage and life issues, but they’ve broadened them into a concern about global poverty and making sure the quality of life for individuals is one that a human expects and deserves.

The exciting thing about John McCain is that he hits on all cylinders. There’s not any one of the things that evangelicals would be looking for — creation care, all of them — that John McCain has had in his agenda for years.