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America spoke

"America spoke" Continued...

Issue: "Obama," Nov. 15, 2008

The president-elect also offered a promise to voters who didn't support him: "For those Americans whose support I have yet to earn, I may not have won your vote tonight, but I hear your voices. I will be your president, too."

Nearly 2,000 miles away, that wasn't a promise some voters wanted to hear. At the Arizona Biltmore Hotel in Phoenix, Ariz., McCain supporters brushed away tears as the Republican candidate congratulated Obama and encouraged his supporters to offer the Democrat "good will and earnest effort to find ways to come together."

Surrounded by his family and a teary-eyed Palin, McCain told supporters: "We fought-we fought as hard as we could. And though we fell short, the failure is mine, not yours."

Even as McCain conceded failure, political observers noted that his competitive race was remarkable considering the political environment. Saddled with an economic crisis blamed largely on his party, and relentlessly connected with a highly unpopular president by his foes, McCain still managed to win 46 percent of the popular vote.

Only a few weeks earlier, the presidential race remained neck-and-neck, with McCain gaining ground after a successful GOP convention and a popular vice presidential pick. But it was a September surprise that ultimately unhinged the senator's campaign: When Wall Street collapsed, so did McCain's focus. After he briefly called off his campaign, threatened to cancel the first presidential debate, and returned to Washington to help with an unpopular bailout package, voters questioned McCain's leadership, and the candidate never recovered.

Meanwhile, McCain faced an overwhelming Obama fundraising machine: While McCain accepted public financing and was limited to spending $84 million during the general election, Obama declined public funds and raised a record-breaking $640 million. National and state Democratic parties also outstripped Republican spending, hiring five to 10 times more paid staff than Republicans in swing states, and dominating grassroots efforts once the domain of the GOP.

Conservatives waiting for an 11th-hour intervention like the Swift Boat television ads that damaged Sen. John Kerry's presidential bid in 2004 were disappointed: Chris LaCivita, who developed the Swift Boat campaign for a political action committee four years ago, told Politico that when it came to developing a similar campaign against Obama: "Donors just weren't willing to give the money."

One place McCain's popularity grew through Election Day was with a group that once represented one of his biggest challenges: evangelical voters. Late last year McCain trailed Republican hopefuls Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney among evangelicals, registering only 13 percent of their support.

Shortly before he won the Republican nomination in March, only 25 percent of evangelicals supported McCain. By late March that support rose to 51 percent, and it reached over 70 percent after McCain's choice of Palin as his running mate in August. The Alaska governor delighted religious conservatives, solidified the conservative base, and left some wondering if the McCain camp should have emphasized Palin more during the campaign, despite a barrage of negative coverage by big media outlets (see sidebar).

Hispanic evangelicals like De Jesus and Rodriguez were disappointed that McCain didn't emphasize immigration reform and noted the senator didn't mention the issue in his convention speech. Still, the two pastors-who both serve with the NHCLC-came to different conclusions about the election: De Jesus supported Obama, Rodriguez did not.

Rodriguez said Obama's positions on social issues served as "firewalls" that kept him from supporting the candidate. "I find it difficult to reconcile evangelicalism and a biblical worldview with any candidate that supports abortion on demand," Rodriguez said of Obama. "As an evangelical, as a Christian, as a minister, it's impossible for me to reconcile that."

But Rodriguez said he knew several conservative, Hispanic ministers-like De Jesus-who supported Obama. De Jesus, pastor of New Life Covenant Ministries, a 4,500-member Assemblies of God church in Chicago, said he told Obama that he is "very pro-life and very pro-marriage." "But there are other issues on our plate," he says. He believes Obama would support an immigration plan to give illegal immigrants a pathway to citizenship without providing blanket amnesty, an issue De Jesus says has a moral dimension many people ignore.

As Republicans lose conservative Hispanic voters to the Democratic Party, Rodriguez says rebuilding a coalition between Hispanic evangelicals and white evangelicals is possible: "White evangelicals need to reach out and embrace a compassionate, comprehensive, non-amnesty immigration reform policy that reconciles Leviticus 19 and Romans 13" (biblical passages that emphasize compassion for strangers and respect for the law).

Evangelicals looking to build coalitions should also look to another minority group that played a major role in this year's elections: black voters, 95 percent of whom favored Obama. Black voters also favored a socially conservative cause that Obama opposes.

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