Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama sent Donald Miller, a prominent evangelical Christian author, to the University of Toledo yesterday to try to make inroads into a demographic that for decades has been a Republican stronghold.
Mr. Miller, 37, whose 2002 book Blue Like Jazz has sold more than a million copies, denounced persistent rumors that Mr. Obama is secretly a Muslim, calling it a 'smear campaign' meant to incite fear. He assured listeners that Mr. Obama is 'a committed Christian' and 'a brother in Christ.'
Speaking to about 60 people in the UT Student Union, Mr. Miller said the Democratic candidate seeks to reduce the number of abortions by fighting poverty and providing health care, insurance, and other services to the needy, arguing that there is much more to the abortion issue than hoping that the Supreme Court overturns Roe vs. Wade.
The Portland, Ore.-based author, whose books challenging the religious establishment are especially popular among college-age readers, said Mr. Obama is focusing on a subgroup of evangelical Christians who go to church every Sunday and associate with people who do the same. While the overall category of evangelical Christians is pretty evenly split between the two parties, he said among members of the church-going subgroup '85 percent vote Republican and 10 percent Democratic. This is an enormous voting bloc. We're talking millions of people.'
He said Republican presidential candidate John McCain selected Sarah Palin as his running mate to attract this evangelical Christian subgroup.
'She is one of these people and she has been chosen to appeal to that specific demographic, and as a Barack supporter and perhaps a biased observer, I think that's the only reason she was chosen,' Mr. Miller said.
Mr. Miller mixed his hour-long talk with a bit of political history, current events and campaign issues, and topical humor.
He brought laughs when he said he received an e-mail claiming that Mr. Obama is 'a Muslim terrorist who has a pet dragon that flies around when there's a full moon.'
'Well, what do we do about this? Well, first of all, it incites a prejudice, a religious prejudice. It counts on people to be afraid,' Mr. Miller said.
He said he was sorry that 'my Muslim brothers and sisters' are 'being thrown into this mess,' and that ugly rumors questioning the Democrat's faith were his main motivation to take part in the candidate's Faith, Family, and Values Tour.
Mr. Obama 'is the only candidate who is willing to talk about Jesus, redemption, the cross, and having your sins washed away,' Mr. Miller said. 'And he was doing this before this is really important he was doing this before presidential politics. He has been doing it for 20 years.'
Referring to the controversies over Mr. Obama's 20-year membership in Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ and the inflammatory remarks of his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Mr. Miller said Mr. McCain 'has no problem with a controversial pastor because he has no pastor. He has no problem with a controversial church because he has no church. He's not criticized for his use of Scripture because he doesn't talk about Scripture.'
UT's Religious Studies Forum sponsored the lecture and Obama for America paid for it.
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