Nearly two-thirds of Catholic Dems vote for Hillary…

Interesting NYTimes article on the Catholic vote:

Catholic Vote Is Harbinger of Success for Clinton

Published: February 9, 2008
Hillary Rodham Clinton has run away with the votes of Roman Catholic Democrats in nearly all the primaries, often beating Barack Obama by two to one or better, exit polls show. In New York, she received 66 percent of the Catholic vote to his 30 percent.

“I didn’t go to bed until 1 in the morning waiting on the results,” said Joe Quinn, a Catholic who is a building superintendent on the Upper West Side. “I slept very well, let me tell you.”

Does it matter whom Catholics like Mr. Quinn voted for in the Democratic primaries? By November, it may not. Still, Catholics, who make up about a quarter of the registered voters in the country, have backed the winner of the national popular vote for at least the last nine presidential elections, going back to 1972.

The Catholic scorecard: five Republican and three Democratic presidents, and one popular-vote-winning but presidency-losing Democrat, Al Gore.

No other large group has switched sides so often, or been so consistently aligned with the winners. Over that same period, a majority of white Protestants typically voted Republican, while blacks of all faiths and Jews strongly backed Democrats.

“Catholics are the last swing voters left in the country,” said Brian O’Dwyer, a Manhattan lawyer and a Clinton supporter.

So why Mrs. Clinton? Catholics are scattered across the American landscape, with the sun having long set on the empire of the parish, a source of boundary and social identity. No single explanation for Mrs. Clinton’s current success could credibly cover enough ground. That did not stop New Yorkers from trying.

Mr. O’Dwyer maintains that Mrs. Clinton as a senator — and Bill Clinton, as president — paid attention to ethnic and working-class Catholics who were often overlooked by both parties. “Every one of the ethnic groups got a hearing,” he said, making them comfortable with Mrs. Clinton’s position on Social Security, health care, education and immigration. And both Clintons, he said, had played central roles in brokering an end to the armed conflict in Northern Ireland.

Another, more daring idea is that Mrs. Clinton owes some of her success to the nuns who were once a potent presence in American Catholicism.

This notion was floated by Catherine T. Nolan, who attended St. Aloysius elementary school in Queens and now represents her old neighborhood in the State Assembly. She noted that older Catholic voters grew up with women in charge of daily life.

“Maybe we’re a little bit more open to female leadership,” said Ms. Nolan, chairwoman of the Assembly Education Committee, one of the most powerful legislative posts in Albany. “We had female role models from an early age. When I was growing up, all the Catholic school principals were women, and almost none of the public school principals were. That’s changed now, but we’ve been used to female authority figures for much longer than other groups.”

Wait a minute: feminism in a religion with an all-male priesthood? “As a young girl, I never thought about who was up on the altar,” Ms. Nolan said. “The nuns were the people we saw every day, and they were running the whole show.”

The nuns, however, cannot account for all of Mrs. Clinton’s success. “She is putting more interest into the Latino communities,” said Gina Trifolio, 26, of Washington Heights. “And, of course, she is a woman.”

As with other groups, younger and more affluent Catholics were more likely to back Mr. Obama. So were people who just don’t like Mrs. Clinton.

“I voted for Obama, but it was mostly an anti-Hillary vote,” said Bill Duffy, a police officer who was picking up his children from a parochial school in the northwest Bronx. “I mean, Obama’s got some good things about him, but the experience is a question. So I might end up with McCain.”

Ms. Nolan recalled, as a girl, going on a field trip in Upper Manhattan to the shrine of Mother Frances Xavier Cabrini — an immigrant nun from Italy who in the late 19th century built 67 orphanages, hospitals and schools, amassing and wielding power against a stubborn hierarchy. She was the first American to be canonized a saint.

The destination was the shrine where an effigy of the saint, along with some of her remains, are displayed under glass beneath the altar. “When you’re a fourth grader coming from Queens and you see that — well, you talk about female role models,” Ms. Nolan said. “Not that I’m putting Hillary Clinton in that category.”

Marjorie Connelly contributed research.

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