Carolina Vote Tests Role of Religion In Politics of South
Catholic candidate draws Protestant crowds
THE brightly illuminated edifice of the Evangel Cathedral looms large over Interstate 85 here in upstate South Carolina, a bastion of Christian conservatism.
Inside of this vast charismatic church, Republican presidential candidate Pat Buchanan holds forth like a preacher, decrying abortion, the Department of Education, and free trade. The hall is about two-thirds full and the response is warm but not overwhelming. A man in the back yells ''Go Pat Go.'' Others, afterwards, say they're still undecided.
But there's something remarkable in this seemingly unremarkable scene: These are devout Protestants receptive to, if not excited about, a Roman Catholic running for president. Times have changed since the 1960 election, when John F. Kennedy's Catholicism - and whispers about where his loyalties would lie - became a campaign issue.
Tomorrow's vote in South Carolina offer the first look through the stained-glass window of how religious allegiances in the South are likely to play out in the presidential race.
''I thought it [Kennedy's Catholicism] was a horrible thing,'' says Jim Fisher, a Buchanan supporter at the rally. ''But now I think that a person can be a Catholic and still be a believer, still go to heaven, as long as he has faith in God.''
''The fact that they're willing to go to a Catholic is a significant change in the Christian conservative movement,'' says James Guth, a specialist on the religious right at Furman University. ''The anti-Catholicism of evangelical Protestants is on the decline.''
Indeed, last fall the Christian Coalition, the most politically powerful organization of the religious right on a national level, launched a Catholic branch, designed to make common cause with Catholics who share the coalition's views on how to address America's social ills.