AMERICAN presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton has chosen a Catholic running mate, adding another layer to the Democrats’ hopes of wooing Catholic voters ahead of the November election.
Mrs Clinton last weekend announced Senator Tim Kaine as her vice-presidential selection, days after her Republican rival Donald Trump paired with evangelical Christian and former Catholic Mike Pence.
The announcements have sparked fresh analysis of the impact of the Catholic vote for an election that is likely to be close according to some opinion polls.
Senator Kaine attended a Jesuit high school and spent a year working as a Jesuit missionary in Honduras.
He has spoken regularly about his Catholic faith during his political career in Virginia.
He once detailed his family’s Catholic background in an interview with C-SPAN, saying “if we got back from a vacation on a Sunday night at 7.30pm, (his parents) would know the one church in Kansas City that had an 8pm Mass that we can make”.
Major US newspapers including The Washington Post and The New York Times have devoted several stories in the past week to the impact of Catholic voters following the announcements of Senator Kaine and Indiana Governor Pence.
Professor Simon Jackman, the CEO of the United States Studies Centre and a former professor of political science and statistics at Stanford University, said the Catholic vote was becoming more important in the US.
“The Catholic vote isn’t as important as it once was but it’s becoming more important again because of the prevalence of the Latinos in the Catholic Church and the socially progressive nature of some inner-city voters,” Prof Jackman said.
“Decades ago, Catholic meant Democrat but the conservative revolution in the US in the 1980s split that Catholic vote.
“Now, the topics of same-sex marriage and abortion become the pivots which determine the two arms of the Catholic vote. One breaks the Democrats’ way and the other the Republican way.
“And Trump has said that there ought to be consequences if a woman has an abortion – that will reinforce this divide in the Catholic vote.”
One-third of US Catholics are Hispanic and recent research in the US showed they preferred Mrs Clinton to Mr Trump by a ratio of almost five to one.
But the same Pew Research Centre information showed white Catholics preferred Mr Trump by 50 to 46 per cent.
Mr Pence’s selection sparked a series of stories about his religious background, focusing on his move from Catholicism to evangelical Christianity.
A story in The New York Times read: “Mr Pence … is the only one of six Pence siblings who is no longer part of the Catholic Church. Though the family remains close, his embrace of evangelical Christianity was long a source of disappointment to his mother, according to the Rev. Clement T. Davis, the priest at the church … where Mr Pence was baptised.”
Prof Jackman, who is a former Brisbane Catholic school student, said Mr Pence had taken a path more common in the Republican Party.
“To succeed in the Republican Party, it’s much more conventional to have evangelical protestant credentials,” Prof Jackman said.
“But the Republicans will still do quite well with the conservative element of the Catholic vote.”