Getting religion

After a series of largely ignored debates and months of organizing and cajoling, candidates for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination are about to enter a dizzying period of caucuses and primaries that could determine the nominee by March. The conventional wisdom is that Vermont Governor Howard Dean, who has run on a staunchly antiwar, anti-Bush platform, is the man to beat. Dean has energized the Democratic base, won the endorsement of important labor unions, and raised more money than any other candidate through his unprecedented use of the Internet. As the frontrunner, Dean has increasingly come in for vilification from his rivals, who are eager to question his “electibility,” casting this Yale-educated governor of a small, liberal Northeastern state as outside the American mainstream. Much of this is predictable political cut-and-thrust, and jockeying for position. There seems little doubt that Dean, should he win the nomination, would steer his campaign to the political middle, as nearly all major-party candidates do.

However, there is one pronounced aspect of Dean’s candidacy, and apparently his personality, that may not be easy to modify or reshape. Dean’s resolute secularism and tin ear for religion are likely to prove formidable obstacles in any attempt to broaden his appeal to those outside his party’s core constituencies, especially to Evangelical Christians and to Catholics. “My religion...

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