After John Kerry's election defeat, Democrats are trying to figure out how to get some of the religious vote for themselves:
Bested by a Republican campaign emphasizing Christian faith, some Democrats are scrambling to shake off their secular image, stepping up efforts to organize the "religious left" and debating changes to how they approach the cultural flashpoints of same-sex marriage and abortion.
Some call the election a warning. "You can't have everybody who goes to church vote Republican; you just can't," Al From, founder of the Democratic Leadership Council, said last week at a forum on the election.
Religious traditionalists including Dr. Richard Land, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the conservative Southern Baptist Convention, and Jim Wallis of the liberal evangelical group Sojourners say Democratic officials are calling them for advice on reaching conservative Christians. And they and some other theologically orthodox supporters of Mr. Bush say it may not take much for Democrats to make inroads among their constituency, if the party demonstrates a greater friendliness to religious beliefs and even modestly softens its support for abortion rights.
But many--including Democrats--see difficulties ahead:
"It would not be hard," said the Rev. Richard John Neuhaus, editor of the journal First Things and a conservative Catholic who has advised Mr. Bush on how to handle the issue of abortion.
But Democrats disagree about how to establish the party's spiritual credentials. Some play down the need for changes, saying poorly framed surveys of voters leaving polls are overstating the impact of conservative Christian voters. Others argue that Democrats need to rephrase their positions in more moral and religious language. And an emboldened group of Democratic partisans and sympathetic religious leaders warn that Mr. Bush has beaten Democrats to the middle on social issues like abortion that resonate with religious traditionalists, arguing that the party should publicly welcome opponents of abortion into its ranks and perhaps even bend in its opposition to certain abortion restrictions.
In an interview, Mr. From pointed out that Republicans invited officials who disagreed with the party's position on abortion rights, like Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California and Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former mayor of New York, to speak at their national convention. Democrats should do likewise, he argued.
"I want to win some people who are pro-life, because they probably agree with us on a lot of other things," Mr. From said.
Even that, however, would shock some Democrats. No prominent opponent of abortion has come anywhere near the podium of a Democratic convention since 1992, when abortion rights groups blocked a speech on the subject by Robert P. Casey, the governor of Pennsylvania and an observant Catholic.
"Our platform and the grass-roots strength of the party is pro-choice," said Elizabeth Cavendish, interim president of Naral Pro-Choice America. The party needs more religious language, Ms. Cavendish said, but not new positions.
The last quote is telling, and really is all we're likely to see from them. Dropping by the pulpit on the way to the abortion clinic isn't going to win them any points. The Democrats have become a party dominated by practical atheists and are awash in secularism. Don't look for the religious erosion on the Left to stop any time soon.