Ross Douthat has some spot on thoughts here:
Obama’s overt religiosity, his emphasis on social justice, and his team’s savvy religious outreach make him a more attractive figure to many evangelical voters than any other Democratic nominee of recent vintage. Factor in John McCain’s reticence about his own faith, his much-publicized spats with religious-right pooh-bahs, his obvious discomfort with issues like abortion and gay marriage and his disorganized, behind-the-eight-ball staff, and you seem to have a recipe for real Democratic inroads among a constituency that the GOP has owned for a long time now.
I think this is basically right. Unless John McCain can become more convincing on judicial appointments (he won’t), there is bound to be some drift. When I was reporting on how the candidates were reaching out to churchgoers in the lead-up to the South Carolina primary, I got a good idea of how organized Obama’s campaign could be. Obama’s staffers weren’t only name-dropping Marshal Ganz, a famed progressive organizer, they were putting his ideas to work. The Obama campaign was identifying the most influential members of important congregations at it’s “faith forums,” allowing the Clinton campaign to pursue the more expensive (and less effective) strategy of hiring important ministers as “consultants.”
For years progressives have dreamed of getting Evangelicals to connect with anti-poverty and environmental programs. Obama may be the one to do it. As Ross says, he is just better than McCain at framing his progressive policies as part of a moral mission. McCain would be foolish to counter this by using the Rev. Wright card. Many religious conservatives know what it is like to have a pastor called out as an “extremist” and they recognize this as a technique of their liberal enemies.
But I would caution my progressive friends from thinking they can capture these voters for the long-term. White evangelicals may be for Democrats what Hispanics are for Republicans. Each party has certain policy commitments that make winning a majority among these groups almost impossible. There is no wedge issue that is big enough to divide white evangelicals from economic conservatives — anti-poverty programs won’t do it. Likewise Republicans have been unable to use abortion or family-issues to separate Hispanics from the party that seems a natural fit for recent immigrants.