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Obama's Ricochet Pander

No doubt the Obama campaign is aggressively courting evangelicals because it thinks it can erode the GOP's traditional dominance there. If Obama can cut the 80-20 Bush-Kerry split among evangelical voters to 60-40--something an evangelical PR-man connected to Franklin Graham suggests is possible in today's Times--then he will almost certainly win the election.

But there's something about the campaign's evangelical outreach that makes me think there's a bit of a ricochet pander at work here, too. For those unfamiliar with the term, it came into being in 2000 to describe Bush's efforts to win over moderate white suburbanites by courting black voters, the overwhelming majority of whom were going to oppose him. (I think my colleague Michelle Cottle actually introduced the term into the popular discourse; I know she wrote one of the first pieces laying out the strategy.)

For the Obama campaign, I'd guess the targets of the ricochet are moderate, downscale whites who aren't evangelicals themselves--and probably not even especially religious--but for whom Obama's rapport with white evangelicals might be reassuring, especially amid all the false rumors of his secret Muslim identity.

Interestingly, the Obama campaign even talks about their evangelical efforts the way the Bushies talked about their African-American outreach--understated, cautiously-optimistic, and with special emphasis on the attributes the ricochet target might find appealing. To wit:  

Joshua DuBois, director of religious affairs for the Obama campaign, said that the campaign expected resistance from a large part of the evangelical community, but that millions of faith voters were persuadable.

“We’re not going to convince everybody,” said Mr. DuBois, 25, a former associate pastor of a Pentecostal Assemblies of God church in Massachusetts. “The most committed pro-lifers probably won’t vote for him. But others will be open to him because they see he’s a man of integrity, a person of faith who listens to and understands people of all religious backgrounds.”

Of course, I'm not sure how you'd distinguish this from a first-order strategy of poaching evangelicals. But, then, you don't have to, since, unlike the Bushies, Team Obama has a real shot at first-order success, too.

P.S. Commenter dbhuff takes issue with the word "pander" here, since there's no evidence Obama is being insincere in courting evangelicals. I completely agree--I was just leaning on a phrase already in circulation. Why don't we just call it Obama's "ricochet bonus," since any benefit he accrues among non-evangelicals would come on top of the benefits of winning over evangelicals.  

--Noam Scheiber