Can Evangelical Voters Win Colorado for McCain?

September 9 2008, 7:29 AM
Following up on my last post about Saturday's McCain-Palin rally in Colorado Springs, and how the candidates and speakers, while stressing the importance of Colorado and El Paso County in particular this November, failed to give even a passing nod to the evangelical social agenda, a larger question comes to mind. Is El Paso County, with its high concentration of evangelical and military-oriented voters, enough to push McCain to victory in Colorado in November? Taking a look at various numbers, I would say it's a close question, but unlikely. According to this 2006 PEW Research report:
Indeed, in many respects, white evangelicals have become the bedrock of the GOP. In the 2004 election, they were the largest single demographic group among Bush voters, constituting fully 35% of his total. Today, Republicans outnumber Democrats among white evangelicals by more than two-to-one (51%-22%), and hold a 63%-29% lead when partisan "leaners" are included. Although Republican Party identification among both evangelicals and non-evangelicals increased slightly following the September 11 attacks, it has since retreated to pre-9/11 levels for non-evangelicals. Among evangelicals, it has continued to rise. Today, white evangelicals make up 22% of the population, and constitute nearly four out of every ten (39%) Republicans. ....The rising political clout of evangelical Christians is not the result of growth in their numbers but rather of their increasing cohesiveness as a key element of the Republican Party.
Another factor to consider in Colorado is the Hispanic/Latino evangelical vote. Newsweek this week reports:
Though polls show Obama beating Sen. John McCain among Hispanics as a whole by roughly 30 points, Hispanic evangelicals are a tougher sell. In 2004, 63 percent of them voted for President Bush. Comprising about one third of Hispanic voters overall, evangelicals are more affluent, more likely to be citizens and more likely to vote than non-evangelicals. (Hispanics make up 15 percent of the U.S. population.)
Taking a look at CNN's 2004 election results for the presidential race in Colorado, President Bush beat Senator John Kerry by 100,000 votes out of 2.1 million. In Denver, the results were:
  • Kerry, 166,135 votes, 70%
  • Bush, 69,903, 29%
  • Nader 1,371, 1%
In El Paso County, the results were:
  • Bush, 161,361 votes, 67%
  • Kerry, 77,648, 32%
  • Nader, 1,319, 1%
In Boulder, another highly populated, reliably Democratic county, the results were:
  • Kerry, 105,564 votes, 66%
  • Bush, 51,586, 32%
  • Nader, 964 , 1%
Among these three highly populated counties, Kerry roughly had 348,000 votes to Bush's 280,000 votes. So El Paso won't trump Denver and Boulder together. Equally relevant is what happens when you factor in other large counties like Arapahoe, Jefferson, Adams, and Douglas counties. The only one that went overwhelmingly for one candidate was Douglas:
    Bush, 80,651 votes, 67% Kerry, 39,661 33%
And then there are new voters to consider. According to KKTV News in Colorado Springs:
In June and July, Democrats registered over 13 thousand new voters; three times that of the Republicans. But Republicans still hold the largest voting bloc in the state with 1,024,500, with unaffiliated voters close behind.
My conclusion is that even with its high percentage of evangelical and military-based voters, El Paso County is unlikely to determine the outcome of the presidential race in Colorado. This may be why both candidates are fighting so hard for our nine electoral votes--and why we'll continue to hear little about evangelical social issues from the McCain camp in the coming weeks. I think both campaigns will be smart enough to focus on the economy in their attempt to convince Independent voters and win the "swing counties." With the evangelical voters already in the McCain camp, there's no need to risk alienating other large groups by focusing on a conservative social  agenda. Other themes I think the candidates will continue to press are (1) who's the real agent of change and who will bring more of the same? (2) who's ready now to lead the country in a crisis? and (3) who is better on energy and the environment? Since supporters of each candidate believe their candidate wins on those themes, existing demographics, Independents, and new voters, rather than past allegiances, may play a bigger role than usual in November.