But the primary statistics do not tell the full story. For the general election, it's important to peer deeper into the Catholic mind.
Catholics shed their Republican wardrobe in the 2006 midterm election, favoring Democrats 55 percent to 45 percent—a reversal of their 52 percent to 47 percent support for Bush over Kerry in 2004. Because Democratic and Catholic dogmas collide over the polarizing issue of abortion, Catholics do have to navigate some difficult ethical waters to contemplate voting blue. McCain and Huckabee—unlike either of the Democrats—join in the Catholic prayer for the unborn, but Republican promises have often left those prayers unanswered. While no papal instruction will ever condone the "right to choose," the church does ask for a consistent and realistic defense of life that actually takes steps to reduce the incidence of the practice, not just condemns it. Catholics will note that McCain and Huckabee's pro-life postures collapse when it comes to the death penalty. Even if the Supreme Court decides later this spring that lethal injection is not "cruel and unusual" under our Constitution, capital sentencing is often erratic and erroneous in light of the modern availability and reliability of DNA evidence. It is Catholic instruction that there are better ways to deter violent crime.
Beyond life issues, an audaciously hope-filled Democrat like Obama is a Catholic natural. Anyone seeking "liberty and justice for all" really can't be satisfied with racially segregated public schools that don't teach. And there's something deeply hypocritical about being a nation of immigrants that won't welcome any more of them. And that creation that God saw as good in Genesis? Well, even without seeing Al Gore melt those glaciers over and over again, Catholics chose Al to better steward a world beset with unnatural disasters. Climate change is driven by mindless consumption that devotes more ingenuity to securing golden parachutes than energy independence.
Of course, marriage and family are indispensable as well, and until now, Catholics saw the Republicans as having a lock on the family issue. But if either Clinton or Obama would acknowledge the myriad problems associated with a declining population in the developed world and affirm the importance of both having and raising children (and not just punting these duties over to Hillary's "village"), Catholics could well contemplate a Democratic adoption.
Sorry to tell you this, Sen. McCain, but a good number of the Catholics I know are not certain to light candles at the Republican political altar. Some of us who rode McCain's Straight Talk Express before the Republican commitment to a balanced budget put us on track toward a $400 billion deficit appreciate his confessed desire to redeem himself as a faithful conservative. But there are suspicions. After all, hanging out with Joe Lieberman and Russ Feingold comes well within the Latin canon: Similes similibus gaudent. Pares cum paribus facile congregantur—birds of a feather flock together. So instead, some Catholics may be hoping for a Huckabee miracle. Southern Baptists and Catholics haven't always gotten along, but there is something just downright Knights of Columbus-friendly about the guy—squirrel-roasting aside. Huck's delegate math will need to cash in more than a few chits with St. Jude, the patron saint of lost causes, but hey, in theology, if you can make do with five loaves and fishes, what's the big deal about delegates?
So, here's the thing: John McCain will have many Catholics in the pews a little while longer, but more than a few of us are thinking of giving him up for Lent. Reagan used to say that he didn't leave the Democratic Party, it left him. The launch of "Reaganites for Obama" might not be far behind. We might not be there yet, but we're getting close.