Democrats aren’t usually known as the party of faith but last night Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton appeared in CNN’s Compassion Forum to woo religious voters on the left in Pennsylvania two weeks before the April 22 primary.
At Messiah College near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, both candidates were given ample time to answer questions from CNN hosts Campbell Brown and Joe Meacham, as well as various religious leaders in the audience.
According to a February 2008 Gallup poll, Clinton holds a significant lead over Obama among highly religious white Democrats and Clinton is expected to win the Pennsylvania primary, though her lead continues to diminish slowly.
The forum was scheduled to move beyond “standard policy issues,” according to host Campbell Brown and the candidates tackled everything from personal religious experiences to abortion, euthanasia and international human rights.
Clinton kicked off the evening, first maintaining her position that Obama seemed “elitist” with his recent comments regarding small town American, and then with a personal testimony to her Christian faith.
The forum gave her an opportunity to repeat her proposal that President Bush not attend the Olympic Games in China and noted that human rights around the world need to be improved.
After being asked why a loving God allows suffering (to audience laughter), Clinton admitted she didn’t know but said, “In the face of suffering, there is no doubt in my mind that God calls us to respond.”
She applauded President Bush’s efforts in putting forth American support for the victims of the 2005 Tsunami. She said to increase humanitarian efforts around the world, America should implement military into those causes.
On abortion she said she believes there is potential for life at conception but repeated her long-held position that a woman should continue to have a choice to continue her pregnancy.
She delved into her plans to pull troops out of Iraq and talked about “many occasions where I felt like the Holy Spirit was there with me as I made a journey.”
“We are on this journey together, and we need to approach it with a great deal of humility. And that’s what I’m trying to do in this campaign,” said Clinton. “But whatever happens, I will get up the next day and try to continue on my journey to do what I can to try to fulfill what I believe to be God’s expectations of us.”
Obama took the stage after Clinton, first defending those controversial comments labeled “elitist.” Earlier this week, he said “it’s not surprising then they [small town individuals] get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”
He said his words were “clumsy” but meant that “religion is a bulwark, a foundation…when other things aren’t going well.”
He claimed to be a “devout Christian” and said no one on the Democratic side in politics has “done more to reach out to the church” and hopes to follow God’s “master plan.”
Obama’s faith has come under fire recently due to the anti-American comments made by his former pastor and 20-year mentor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright. He was asked about Wright, whom he described as his “pastor,” though not a “spiritual advisor.” He said the recent “greatest hits” of Rev. Wright were not representative of the pastor or the church.
Some voters have been mis-informed about Obama’s religion as well, due to Internet rumors that Obama was a Muslim but he has said he “prays to Jesus” every night and takes seriously his Christian faith.
He said his experience with Islam as a child in Indonesia was not significantly influential because he attended a Catholic school and then a public school.
Obama was confronted about his remarks that his daughters not be “punished with a baby” if they had sex. He responded that he also said children were miracles.
“…All I meant was we want to prevent teen pregnancies. And what we don’t want to do is to be blind to the possibility that kids will screw up, just like, surprisingly enough, we as adults screw up sometimes,” said Obama.
Obama also spoke of increasing efforts to reduce global warming, praised President Bush for his PEPFAR (President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) policy and said it is a “moral imperative” that a plan is in place to provide healthcare for all Americans. Obama said he will “not operate out of fear” and therefore opposes torture for terrorists America has in their captivity for culling important national security information.
Throughout the forum, hosts mentioned the controversial nature of the event because many Americans do not want to mix religion and politics but both candidates acknowledged that it was not an issue that could be ignored.