Ryan’s Catholicism could help Romney, observers say
Whether U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan’s Roman Catholicism played into his selection as Mitt Romney’s running mate is up for debate. By all accounts, Ryan’s primary attractions have been his reputation as a budget hawk and his conservative credentials, popular even with the tea party.
But Ryan’s faith is likely to help Romney on a number of fronts, political observers say, including placating evangelicals, who’ve found common cause with conservative Catholics on such issues as abortion and gay marriage, and shifting the religious debate from Romney’s Mormonism to the Catholic bishops’ campaign for religious freedom.
The national political conventions have historically been a place where candidates tout their faith and values. Now, observers are looking to this week’s Republican National Convention for insights into what role religion will play in the first Mormon-Catholic ticket, and a campaign in which Romney has resisted being branded the Mormon candidate.
“In some ways, I think it’s a brilliant move on his part to shift the religious discussion” and perhaps position Ryan as the culture warrior that Romney is not, said Princeton University historian Neil J. Young.
“It’ll be interesting to see if Ryan takes up that mantle at the convention. Does he become the Catholic spokesman for anti-abortion and gay marriage . . . and allow Romney to come forward as a businessman and politician, and believer in American civil religion?”
What Ryan can’t do is deliver the Catholic vote. There really is no such thing, according to polls that suggest that Catholics vote generally in sync with the nation as a whole.
If anything, the vice presidential candidate’s budget proposal, with its deep cuts to social programs, has ignited a debate about what it means to be Catholic, and even Christian. On one side are the orthodox faithful (and most Catholic bishops) who see abortion and gay marriage as the litmus test; on the other, social justice Catholics who emphasize the church’s care for the poor.
Beyond Catholics, Ryan’s views on abortion – he opposes it even in cases of rape and incest – could cause problems for independent voters, regardless of their faith.
“If questions arise about Ryan on religious and social issues, it will be from independents who may worry that he is too socially conservative,” said Mark Silk, a professor of religion in public life at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn.
Ryan’s Catholic faith may not even register for many. A July poll by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life found that 40% of registered voters didn’t know Romney is a Mormon, and 46% didn’t not know President Barack Obama is a Christian. [More]