Catholic Voters Key Players in Pa. Primary Catholic voters may hold the key to Pennsylvania's presidential primary, and the two Democratic rivals are campaigning hard for their support. NPR News Analyst Cokie Roberts talks about the "Catholic vote" and how well Hillary Clinton has to do against Barack Obama if she wants to stay in the race.
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Catholic Voters Key Players in Pa. Primary

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Catholic Voters Key Players in Pa. Primary

Catholic Voters Key Players in Pa. Primary

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Catholic voters could hold the key to Pennsylvania's presidential primary, and the two Democratic rivals are campaigning hard for their support. Joining us now for some analysis is NPR's Cokie Roberts. Good morning.

COKIE ROBERTS: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: You know, Catholics have always been seen as a key swing vote. How's that playing in Pennsylvania?

ROBERTS: Well, you're right, it is a key swing vote and it's like the independent vote generally is the deciding vote. As Catholics go so goes the election. And generally that is the case. And generally in states where it's been a significant vote, Hillary Clinton has been winning that vote. Barack Obama in Pennsylvania hopes that the endorsement of Senator Bob Casey will help him with that vote.

But having said all of that, there is some, you know, active debate about whether there is such a thing as the Catholic vote. I mean, does a country club member in the Philadelphia suburbs vote the same way as a newly sworn in citizen from Central America? Both might happen to be Catholic, but they probably have different economic interests and maybe different social interests. But I asked President Bush last week if he thought there was such a thing as the Catholic vote and he said, yes, if there's a perceived prejudice, and I think that maybe that is something that each candidate is trying to do is to get the Catholic vote to think that there is some perceived prejudice on - or to perceive some prejudice on the part of their opponent, and to try to therefore get that vote out and get it out for them. Now President Bush won the Catholic vote, so he has probably studied it some degree and probably knows what he's talking about.

MONTAGNE: You know, even by the standards of this long campaign, tomorrow's all important primary has been a long time coming - six weeks of campaigning and build up - where does it stand now?

ROBERTS: Well, it's a parlor game going on here in Washington, about how much Hillary Clinton needs to win Pennsylvania by in order to stay in the race and make a good showing. And her campaign will no longer answer that question because they don't want to put a number on it. Some people say she has to win by double digits, other says no, that's not the case. But the truth is is that because it has become so all important, we're now in these last few days into a very nasty, negative campaign with millions and millions and millions of dollars being spent, primarily on television ads, but on all kinds of politics with Barack Obama really trying to end it, you know, to get this nomination over with. I think it will be a relief for both sides to finally have a vote tomorrow, as you say, after this six weeks hiatus.

MONTAGNE: And Cokie, over the weekend, John McCain was asked about one of his controversial endorsements which touches possibly on the Catholic vote, what's the story there?

ROBERTS: Well, he has the endorsement of a televangelist name John Hagee, and Hagee has called the Catholic Church, quote, "a great whore," and called it again, quote, "a false cult system." And Arizona - the Arizona Senator says he has condemned Hagee's remarks and McCain claims that his way of condemning it is very different from the way that Obama responded to questions about his relationship with a 1960's radical William Ayers. And so McCain clearly is now trying to distance himself from Hagee, but also using it as a way to attack Barack Obama, clearly thinking Obama is going to be his opponent in the general election.

MONTAGNE: Although distancing himself, but Cokie, maintaining the endorsement.

ROBERTS: Well, he has - he says that it was a mistake to seek and accept the endorsement, so I - what does that mean? I don't know if that means that he maintains it or not.

MONTAGNE: Cokie, thanks very much. NPR's Cokie Roberts, analysis today and every Monday from NPR's Cokie Roberts.

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