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05 September 2008

With Palin, McCain Ignores Colorado Warning


The following article has been offered as a non-exclusive op-ed by the Coalition for Secular Government to newspapers in the interior west.

With Palin, McCain Ignores Colorado Warning
by Ari Armstrong

"I have to win here if I'm going to be the next president of the United States," John McCain told a Colorado crowd in July. The fact that the Democrats came to Colorado for their convention also proves the presidential importance of the Interior West, a region known for its independent streak and partisan upheavals.

However, McCain seems not to have learned the political lessons of the Interior West, despite the fact that he's from Arizona. By selecting Sarah Palin as his running mate to attract the evangelical vote, McCain risks alienating the independent voters and non- sectarian Republicans he needs to win.

Recent polling results from the Pew Research Center indicate that most Americans now think churches should keep out of politics. Even half of conservatives share this view. The Interior West is particularly leery about faith-based politics; Pew results from 2005 examined by Ryan Sager suggest that 59 percent of residents think "government is getting too involved in the issue of morality." Yet faith-based politics is one of Palin's signature issues.

Palin endorsed the teaching of creationism in tax-funded schools before softening her stance on the issue. She ardently opposes abortion, describing herself as "pro-life as any candidate can be," apparently even in cases of rape, incest, or health problems. Speaking to a church as governor, Palin said that it's "God's will" that she help build an energy pipeline; she added that the Iraq war is "a task that is from God." Political reform, Palin argued, "doesn't do any good if the people of Alaska's heart isn't right with God."

Given McCain's desire to win Colorado, he might have examined why this once solidly Republican state is currently governed by Democrats. One central reason is the domination of the Republican Party in the state by the religious right.

Democrats captured the final branch of state government in 2006 when Bill Ritter defeated Republican Congressman Bob Beauprez in the governor's race. Ritter was accomplished in his own right as the Denver District Attorney but lacked high-level political experience. While Beauprez's campaign suffered a variety of failings, Beauprez's own commitment to faith-based politics, and his selection of a running mate of the same cloth, hurt him badly.

Beauprez himself opposed abortion and favored faith-based welfare. His running mate, Janet Rowland, shared those views and had also come out in favor of teaching creationism in tax-funded schools. When asked about the separation of church and state, Rowland replied, "We should have the freedom OF religion, not the freedom FROM religion." Such expressions rubbed independent-minded Westerners the wrong way.

Yet McCain is following a similar path. On his official web page, McCain says that his ultimate aim is "ending abortion." His running mate, like Rowland, shares that view and favored tax-funded religious education. Palin, like Rowland, would leave Americans without freedom from religious law. Will the team's commitment to faith-based politics be too much for voters in the Interior West to swallow?

The McCain-Palin ticket has a lot going for it that the Beauprez- Rowland ticket did not. McCain is a decorated military veteran with a lengthy career in the Senate. Palin is credible on energy, appealing to low-tax conservatives, and friendly toward gun owners. She has a record as a reformer, and she's an attractive, vibrant, and poised speaker.

Moreover, the left's shrill personal attacks against Palin may serve only to evoke public sympathy for her and energize her supporters. The left's complaints about Palin's lack of experience may underscore their own candidate's inexperience, as Barack Obama tends to come off as a glorified motivational speaker. Yet the Obama-friendly left, in its attempt to itself cozy up to the evangelical vote, shies away from criticizing the McCain-Palin ticket over the issue of separation of church and state.

Nevertheless, as independent and traditionally Republican voters evaluate McCain and Palin on their own merits, rather than merely as the alternative to Obama, many will grow concerned over the pair's commitment to faith-based politics. This will cost McCain votes and other forms of support.

McCain may have energized the religious right, but in doing so he has brought faith-based politics to the forefront of his campaign, leaving freedom-minded independents and secular Republicans without a candidate they can support. The question remaining is which presidential candidate will make them more fearful.

Ari Armstrong is the editor of FreeColorado.com and a co-author of "Amendment 48 Is Anti-Life" at SecularGovernment.us, a paper criticizing the Colorado proposal to define a fertilized egg as a person.

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