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 Washington Notebook

July 21, 2004
Vol. 1, No. 26

Joe Feuerherd, NCR Washington correspondent

Washington 
Correspondent
jfeuerherd@natcath.org
 

"At the March for Life and the adjoining Conservative Political Action Conference, we enlisted an estimated one thousand new [Catholic] Team Leaders."

Martin J. Gillespie,
Director of Catholic Outreach at the Republican National Committee

Translating values into votes, Republicans seek parish directories

By Joe Feuerherd

First of Two Parts

The Republican National Committee (RNC) is urging Bush-supporting Catholics to provide parish directories and membership lists to the GOP.

Martin J. Gillespie, Director of Catholic Outreach at the RNC, made the request earlier this year. "We want to work with you to identify active Catholic voters throughout the country. In this respect, we need your help in requesting parish directory and membership lists of Catholic groups and associations [bold in original]," wrote Gillespie.

"Access to these directories is critical as it allows us to identify and contact those Catholics who are likely to be supportive of President Bush's compassionate conservative agenda. Please forward any directories you are able to collect to my attention," wrote Gillespie.

The above was written as a follow-up to those who attended a Catholic Outreach kickoff reception the Republican National Committee held in Washington Jan. 22, the day of the annual anti-abortion "March for Life." Wrote Gillespie (no relation to GOP Chairman Ed Gillespie), "At the March for Life and the adjoining Conservative Political Action Conference, we enlisted an estimated one thousand new [Catholic] Team Leaders."

(A copy of the document is available in the Special Documents section of NCRonline.org.)

Meanwhile, the other Gillespie -- RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie -- writes a "Dear Fellow Catholic" letter on the GOP Team Leader Web site.

"President Bush had significant success in winning Catholic support in 2000, and Republicans across America were able to build on that success in 2002," writes the GOP chairman. "The Republican trend among Catholics was reflected even more strongly among church-going Catholics."

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The belief among the Bush forces that regular church attendees are more likely to vote for the president (a notion strongly supported by polls) leads the president's campaign to take their request for parish directories a step further. Republicans are particularly interested in targeting Catholics who use collection envelopes to make their Sunday contributions, said a source familiar with the campaign's thinking. Presumably (and not illogically), those who use envelopes rather than toss a $10 or $20 bill into the collection plate are that much more likely to support the president.

Meanwhile, the Republican Party is seeking "Catholic Field Coordinators," according to a June e-mail from the RNC's Martin Gillespie. "Each Catholic field coordinator will be responsible for implementing our plan of organizing a vibrant and efficient network of Catholics in each target state," wrote Gillespie. The job pays $2500 a month, "with up to $500 per month allotted for expenses."

Those field coordinators presumably played a role in organizing the "RNC Catholic Outreach national surrogate tour" where prominent conservative Catholics (Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas, Congressman Patrick Toomey of Pennsylvania, and former baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn among them) recently rallied the faithful to the Bush cause.

Though details of the Bush campaign's outreach to Protestant congregations and Catholic parishes continues to emerge, the importance the Republican Party places on this key part of the electorate is nothing new.

In early June, for example, the New York Times reported on a Bush-Cheney appeal to churchgoers. "The Bush-Cheney '04 national headquarters in Virginia has asked us to identify 1600 "Friendly Congregations" in Pennsylvania where voters friendly to President Bush might gather on a regular basis," wrote Luke Bernstein, coalitions coordinator for the Bush campaign in Pennsylvania. "In each of these friendly congregations, we would like to identify a volunteer coordinator who can help distribute general information from other supporters."

"What was striking about the Pennsylvania e-mail message was its directness," said the Times.

No one should be shocked at the lengths each campaign will go to this election to identify and energize their voters. But if asking congregants to help spread a political message is "direct," what does that make asking Catholics to fork over their parish directories to the Republican National Committee?

*****

Next week, Washington Notebook will be filed from Boston, site of the Democratic National Convention, with a report on what the Kerry campaign is doing to reach the religious community.

The e-mail address for Joe Feuerherd is jfeuerherd@natcath.org

 
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