Tampa Focus

August 28, 2012

Although Hurricane Isaac turned its eye elsewhere, politicians and journalists are focused on Tampa as the Republican National Convention runs today through Thursday. A lot of religious-political activity will occur at the Convention this week as is expected in our age of confessional politics. Here are a few thoughts on what will likely be key religious-political items at the RNC.

1. Mitt Romney will make history as the first Mormon to be nominated for U.S. president by a major political party. He joins a select few nominees who are not among the white Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASPs) that have dominated U.S. politics. He joins Catholics Al Smith, John F. Kennedy, and John Kerry, and black Protestant Barack Obama. One big question to be answered in November is will he be like Smith in merely gaining a historic nomination or like Kennedy and Obama in winning a historic election. It also remains to be seen how well conservative evangelicals embrace Romney's campaign. Although many are driven to defeat Obama, will they actually embrace Romney this week. Or will they ignore his faith and leave the "M-word" out of the event? It will particularly be interesting to see how evangelicals react to a Mormon leading a prayer during the Convention.

2. Key religious leaders have been tapped to offer prayers in hopes of persuading people to support Romney. Although nearly all of those chosen to offer such prayers insist they are merely praying--and not endorsing any candidate or party--Republican leaders carefully decided which religious leaders to invite. Garnering the most attention is Catholic Cardinal Timothy Dolan, President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Having Dolan, a vocal critic of Obamacare, pray is clearly designed to try and capture the Catholic vote, a key swing voting bloc. Not to to be outdone, Democrats today announced Dolan will similarly pray at their convention next week. It may not be smart for Democrats to do that. Although the move helps neutralize Dolan's presence at the RNC (and thus lessen its power to reach Catholics), it elevates the Obama critic to be an even more public and important figure. Also notable among those praying at the RNC is key Latino evangelical Samuel Rodriguez, who disagrees with Romney on immigration policy. As both sides make a play for Hispanic evangelicals, Rodriguez has become highly sought after. Interestingly, last year he participated in a behind-closed-doors effort led by evangelist James Robison to plot how to defeat Obama. 

3. Conservative Christian political activists are in Tampa flexing their political muscles. Some, like pseudo-historian David Barton and Family Research Council head Tony Perkins were elected delegates to the RNC Platform Committee and last week helped write the GOP's position document. Others are holding private meetings or public rallies. On Sunday, Ralph Reed's Faith & Freedom Coalition hosted a political rally in Tampa to rally conservative Christians to the GOP's side. Reed, who recently claimed Christians need to beg God to forgive the nation so that this fall's elections go well (meaning Republicans win), was joined at the event by Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and former presidential hopefuls Mike Huckabee and Newt Gingrich. Like other conservative Christian activists, Reed is roaming around the convention area to spread his pro-GOP, anti-Obama message to reporters and political figures. Last week, a group of conservative Christian leaders met in Tampa, even being joined by embattled Missouri Republican Senate nominee Todd Akin. Among those at the meeting were Reed, Southern Baptist politico Richard Land, and Phyllis Schlafly.