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Catholics on both sides of presidential ticket demonstrate split among the faithful

Much is being made of having two Catholics running on separate presidential tickets this year. Vice President Joe Biden is arguably one of the country’s most well-known Catholics and Paul Ryan, the newly named running mate of Mitt Romney, is also Catholic.

Having a Catholic on each side of the ticket, although as the VP, is a first for the country and a milestone for Catholics. Those raised in Catholic homes remember the impact that John F. Kennedy’s election as the country’s first Catholic president had on the community. (Full disclosure: My paternal grandparents kept a portrait of JFK hung on the wall in recognition of this feat.)

The fight for the 2012 Catholic vote shows how relevant this voting bloc remains and how truly non-monolithic it has become. The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza called the Catholic vote the “2012 bellwether” back in May when Catholics were split down the middle on Romney vs. President Obama. Catholics have voted for eight out of the nine last presidential winners, pointed out MSNBC's Thomas Roberts (video after the jump).

In 2008, Obama won 52% of the Catholic vote while Sen. John McCain took 45%.

Neither the Republican nor the Democratic ticket this time around has escaped scrutiny from Catholic leadership.


President Obama was dinged for his controversial health care law that included a mandate regarding insurance coverage for contraceptives (an item traditionally frowned upon by church leadership, though not as many of its followers). The Obama-Biden ticket is also pro-choice and pro-gay-marriage, also traditional Catholic no-nos.

However, today’s Catholic isn’t JFK’s Catholic. For example, 51% of Catholics believe gay marriage should be legal, according to the latest Gallup poll, a substantial percentage and on par with the beliefs of Americans overall (50%).

Rep. Paul Ryan, who embodies the social conservative aspect of Catholics (pro-life, traditional marriage), has ticked off the charitable credo of the church with his budget that would institute massive cuts to programs that aid the poor, such as food stamps.

Bishops spoke out against his budget, nuns rode across country in protest, and other religious groups have also decried the cuts.   

So which brand of Catholicism will win out this year? That was the question put to a panel on NOW with Alex Wagner Tuesday (video above).

“I do think that Ryan can help with the Catholic vote,” said Patricia Murphy of Citizen Jane Politics. “He is a very devout, almost Evangelical breed of Catholic.”

But Ari Melber of The Nation argued that Ryan’s budget was “unusually and intensely cruel,” to the country’s poorest, a community Catholics have traditionally aimed to protect and serve.

A similar debate played out between two Catholics on MSNBC earlier in the day. Former Rep. Patrick Murphy of Pennsylvania said that Obama-Biden would be victorious once again among Catholics because “their policies clearly mirror the teachings of Jesus Christ and that is to look after the least among us.”

Although the most recent Pew Research Center poll showed Obama holding nearly a 10-percentage-point lead over Romney (51% to 42%), Matt Smith, president of the Catholic Advocate was unconvinced.

“The least among us begins with the unborn and what this administration has done has been one of the most pro-abortion administrations in this country’s history and that is the settled issue of our church along with the sanctity of marriage,” he said. “That is something that faithful Catholics are not going to stand for in this election.”

Interestingly, the Pew poll showed that Catholics also generally believed that President Obama would do a better job of reflecting their views on social issues than Romney would (51% vs. 34%).