Despite the bitterness of the long-running election campaign, some hot-button issues—notably religion—have largely remained off the table.
But yesterday that appeared to change, as Republican vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan made a late play to shore up support among evangelical voters.
In a conference call with tens of thousands of church-goers, the Wisconsin congressman spoke in apocalyptic tones about the ‘dangerous path’ on which Barack Obama will lead the country if he is re-elected tomorrow.
He warned that the President would threaten ‘those Judeo-Christian, Western civilisation values that made us such a great nation in the first place’.
White evangelicals are among the strongest Republican supporters in the U.S., with around 80 percent expected to vote for Mitt Romney, four years after 74 per cent of them supported John McCain.
However, many in the GOP have feared that turnout may be unusually low among the group, owing to a reluctance by some to vote for the Mormon former governor of Massachusetts.
Romney has been reluctant to play up religion during the presidential race as his Mormon faith risked him being seen as an outsider to the majority of Americans at a time when he was trying to convince voters he was human too and like them.
Similarly, Obama, a Christian, has downplayed religion because it provokes conservative conspiracy theorists who are convinced he is Muslim.
In an attempt to get as many evangelicals to the polls as possible, the candidate’s running mate spoke to Ralph Reed of the Faith and Freedom Coalition on Sunday evening, in a conference call which apparently attracted tens of thousands of listeners.
The Roman Catholic Ryan spoke about his faith in more depth than he usually does, revealing he keeps a rosary on him at all time as he claimed, ‘We pray throughout the day.’
He told listeners they should vote for Romney if they were ‘worried about . . . whether or not we’re going to go down the path the President has put us on.’
Describing that path as ‘dangerous’, Ryan added: ‘It’s a path that grows government, restricts freedom and liberty, and compromises those values, those Judeo-Christian, Western civilisation values that made us such a great nation in the first place.’
He specifically criticised the Obama health reforms which force religious organisations to fund free contraception for their employees, saying, ‘My church is suing the federal government.
‘We should not have to sue the federal government to keep our constitutional freedoms. Imagine what he would do if he actually got re-elected. It just puts a chill down my spine.’
Ryan revealed he carries a rosary in his pocket as he said his faith ‘sustains us on a daily basis’, adding: ‘It keeps us humble, it keeps us strong, it keeps us in a great place, it gives us peace of mind.’
He paid tribute to the goodwill of strangers on the campaign trail: ‘I can’t tell you how important it is to have the prayers of the tens of thousands of people we meet across the country.
‘It’s because so many people around this country are praying for us and offering their prayers and coming up and giving us so many mementos that show they really care about this country and that they’re praying for us.’
Reed told listeners that the Faith and Freedom Coalition will have made more than 120 million contacts with voters ahead of the election, with tactics including phone calls, emails and personal visits to evangelicals in its database.
Issues of religious identity have largely stayed in the background of the election, despite a number of controversies which have raged on the sidelines of the campaign.
Romney is the first Mormon presidential candidate, a fact which some suggested could alienate Republican-leaning Protestants and Catholics.
And Obama’s relationship with his former pastor Jeremiah Wright has long been a source of contention—not to mention fringe conspiracy theories which claim that the President is secretly a Muslim.