Catholicism and the Presidential Race: 2004 vs. Now

Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry speaks to delegates during the Democratic National Convention at the FleetCenter in Boston, Thursday, July 29, 2004. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)STEPHAN SAVOIA / AP

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By Mark Murray, Chuck Todd and Carrie Dann

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Pope Francis now vs. Catholicism in the 2004 race

As Pope Francis addresses Congress this morning -- with a good chunk of the 2016 presidential field in attendance -- it’s instructive to take a stroll down memory lane to the last presidential contest where Catholicism played a role: 2004. Here were some of the stories:

  • “Some bishops have taken the radical step of declaring that officials who support abortion rights shouldn't receive Holy Communion, and one has even said he'd personally refuse [John] Kerry at the altar.” -- AP, May 7, 2004
  • “A top Vatican official said Friday that Roman Catholic politicians who support abortion should be denied Holy Communion, as church officials in the United States debate how to respond to Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry's position in favor of abortion rights.” -- Washington Post, April 24, 2004
  • “The political world is abuzz over whether the Democratic candidate for president will be turned away when he seeks Communion today, Easter Day, because Kerry is a supporter of abortion rights.” -- Boston Globe, April 11, 2004

A decade and two popes later, the issue terrain looks a bit different, doesn’t it? What Pope Francis emphasized yesterday in his remarks at the White House (immigration, climate change; references to Cuba, the Iran deal) and what he didn’t (abortion, gay marriage) should give some Catholic Republicans political heartburn. To be sure, Pope Francis talked about religious liberty yesterday. And it’s more than possible he today mentions abortion and even the federal health-care law when it comes to that liberty issue. But his emphasis on social justice vs. abortion and sex is a significant change from 2004.

Which 2016ers will be in the audience for Pope Francis’ speech -- and which ones won’t

By the way, here are the 2016ers we know will be in the audience for Pope Francis’ remarks to Congress, per NBC’s Doug Adams: Sens. Ted Cruz, Lindsey Graham, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, and Bernie Sanders; Gov. Chris Christie; and Ben Carson. Who we know won’t be there: Carly Fiorina and Bobby Jindal. And we’re still checking on the others.

The four questions that will determine if there’s a government shutdown

Speaking of Congress, perhaps Pope Francis will help avoid an upcoming government shutdown through divine intervention. But as budget expert Stan Collender suggests, the political forces certainly point to a shutdown happening. Here are the four questions that Collender says will determine if there’s a government shutdown:

  1. Will Ted Cruz go quietly?
  2. Is the coup danger to Boehner real? Or an empty gesture?
  3. Will the House Democrats play and help Boehner?
  4. Does Boehner need a shutdown in order to keep his job?

Indeed, it’s that last point that should give everyone pause: Can any congressional watcher envision a scenario where both shutdown DOESN’T happen and Boehner KEEPS his job?

Our additional question: Does Rubio follow Cruz into the Planned Parenthood War?

Speaking of Cruz and the role he might play in leading to a government shutdown -- “[I]t’s hard to imagine that … Cruz won’t try to do everything possible to demonstrate to his voters that he tried to stop the Planned Parenthood funding,” Collender writes -- the question we have is: Does Marco Rubio follow him? With Rubio gaining ground in the post-debate polls and with Walker dropping out, the Florida senator’s stock is up. But what does Rubio do? Follow Cruz into the Planned Parenthood War? Or does he stay away? That’s going to be a fascinating angle to watch.

Polls galore!

Pope Addressing Congress Day also happens to be a big poll day. There have been three new polls in the last 12-15 hours, and they all show Donald Trump maintaining his lead after last week’s GOP debate:

  • Fox: Trump 26%, Carson 18%, Fiorina 9%, Rubio 9%, Cruz 8%, Bush 7%, Christie 5%
  • Bloomberg: Trump 21%, Carson 16%, Bush 13%, Fiorina 11%, Rubio 8%, Cruz 5%
  • Quinnipiac: Trump 25%, Carson 17%, Fiorina 12%, Bush 10%, Rubio 9%, Cruz 7%

Bottome line here: Trump isn’t moving (not gaining ground, but not really losing it, either), and Carson remains in a solid second place.

Meanwhile, here are the new polling results on the Democratic side (the Bloomberg poll for the Dems came out yesterday):

  • Fox: Clinton 44%, Sanders 30%, Biden 18%, O’Malley 2%, Webb 1%
  • Quinnipiac: Clinton 43%, Sanders 25%, Biden 18%.

On the trail

Jeb Bush is in South Carolina… Marco Rubio holds a town hall in Davenport, IA… And Carly Fiorina, like Bush, is in the Palmetto State.

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