Polls show the presidential race tied in Michigan and Pennsylvania. In Ohio, the polls show President Obama tied with Mitt Romney or with a statistically insignificant lead.
What all three states have in common is a large Catholic population. While there is no distinctive Catholic vote (observant Catholics and white Catholics lean Republican while Latino Catholics and nominal Catholics lean Democratic), the key to victory this year may be which group of Catholics shows up in bigger numbers on Election Day.
The latest Columbus Dispatch poll gives Romney a 55 percent to 44 percent lead with Catholics in Ohio. (Nationally, Catholics tend to be more Democratic than Republican.) That’s why Mitt Romney’s staffers worry about a last-minute underground attack designed to drive a wedge between potential Republican Catholic voters and their candidate over the Mormon issue. “It will be by phone and perhaps anonymous e-mails, but we won’t be surprised if it comes,” one Romney staffer in Ohio told me.
In late September, U.S. News & World Report reported that Deal Hudson, a prominent Catholic supporter of Mitt Romney’s who heads the Pennsylvania Catholic Network, had discovered that a group calling itself Catholics for Obama had been making push-poll phone calls in his state. Among the questions asked, Hudson said, was “How can you support a ‘Mormon’ who does not believe in Jesus Christ?” The caller then claimed that Obama didn’t support abortion and that Planned Parenthood offered only prenatal services.
Two other Catholics have told me they have received anonymous excerpts of the new Rolling Stone cover story entitled “Mitt Romney and the Ghosts of Mormon History” with the admonition that they must read it before they vote.
The Obama campaign responded to the U.S. News report by calling the charge that Catholics for Obama had made such calls “categorically false.” But there is always the danger that in the final hours of a campaign, the temptation by underlings to play the Mormon card may prove irresistible. After all, at this late date there is no way to hold anyone accountable for such whispering campaigns and smears.