Down Ticket

March 29, 2012

While most of the political world remains focused on the presidential campaign, important lower-level elections have also been held in recent weeks. In several states, high-powered primaries have pitted sitting representatives against each other since redistricting in various states merged districts. Perhaps most notably, Democratic Representative Dennis Kucinich, an ultra-liberal who twice ran for president, was defeated in Ohio earlier this month by fellow Democratic Representative Marcy Kaptur (who will face Republican nominee Samuel "Joe the Plumber" Wurzelbacher in November). Another key election occurred a week later in Alabama. Roy Moore, former Chief Justice of the Alabama State Supreme Court, won the Republican primary as he seeks to win back his old job as the head of the state's highest court. I have documented problems with Moore's actions and rhetoric in my first book (For God's Sake, Shut Up!) and several blog posts (see here, here, here, here, and here). I also dealt with Moore in an academic study in the K.B. Journal and a column in the Birmingham News. Moore, who was kicked off the court in 2003 for violating the order of a federal court, was badly defeated in Republican gubernatorial primaries in 2006 and 2010. Yet, Republicans in the state now want to put him back on the bench in the same job where he was removed for not following the law. Moore's recent rhetoric, which is clearly drawing on confessional politics, seems to suggest he has not changed much since his last tenure on the bench. Moore is one of the best examples of why state supreme court justices should not be chosen by partisan elections (but instead appointed as they are in some states). Hopefully the voters of Alabama will carefully consider the merits of the candidates this fall instead of simply voting for Moore due to his party affiliation. If they do, they will not return a still unrepentant Moore to the state's highest court.

Moore's strength likely came from support of conservative evangelicals--who also lifted former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum to victory in the Yellowhammer State presidential primary that same day. Other polling results about Alabama evangelicals should raise concerns about the current political attitudes of evangelicals. As I noted in a previous post, a poll by Public Policy Polling found that a large number of Alabama Republicans thought Obama was a Muslim and only a few thought he was a Christian--and evangelicals were even more likely to say "Muslim" and less likely to say "Christian." Other results from the poll paint an image of conservative evangelicals as adopting harsher positions than conservative non-evangelicals. While non-evangelicals only supported Alabama's controversial immigration law by a 53-34 percent margin, evangelicals offered support for it by a whopping 72-17 percent margin. The law is currently being challenged by some religious leaders. Another poll question asked Republicans about their opinion of radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh, who at the time was embroiled in a controversy over his highly slanderous and uncivil remarks about a female Georgetown law student. While more non-evangelicals held a unfavorable opinion of Limbaugh (47%) than held a favorable one (41%), more evangelicals held a favorable opinion of him (58%) than held an unfavorable one (27%). These three results--opinions on Obama's faith, the immigration law, and Limbaugh--are a disturbing pattern. Somehow evangelicals are adopting harsher and less civil positions than their non-evangelical counterparts. The consequences of confessional politics clearly are not pretty.