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With court battle looming, Trump and Biden compete for Catholic voters

By Daniela Altimari, The Hartford Courant on

Published in News & Features

HARTFORD, Conn. - Four years ago, Marge Hansen was deeply skeptical of Republican Donald Trump, dismissing the thrice-married businessman who once boasted about grabbing women "by the p---y" as sharply out-of-step with her own conservative Catholic values.

This year, she's firmly behind Trump - even though former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee, is Catholic.

"I don't want to date the man, but I do want him to run my country," said Hansen, a 67-year-old widow from Wilton who considers herself a devout Catholic and regularly attends Latin Mass. "I had been on the fence with him, but the decisions he's made as president have surprised me in a very pleasant way."

Trump won over white Catholics such as Hansen with his efforts to limit access to abortion, protect religious freedom and advocate for Catholic schools. A Presbyterian who rarely attends church, he was the first sitting president to attend the annual March for Life anti-abortion rally in Washington in January.

"He's been the most pro-life president we've ever had," said Peter Wolfgang, president of FIC Action, the political arm of the socially conservative Family Institute of Connecticut.

The looming battle over a replacement for Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has brought the conflict over abortion into sharper focus less than six weeks before Election Day. On Saturday, Trump nominated Amy Coney Barrett, a conservative Catholic who is the ideological opposite of Ginsburg on abortion and a host of other issues.


"This will have repercussions long beyond the Trump era," Wolfgang said. "Judges will be there forever. ... This is really the whole ballgame."

Although there are wide demographic and ideological differences among the 51 million American adults who identify as Roman Catholic, the sheer size of the Catholic population is likely to shape a close election. According to exit poll data, Catholic voters have picked the winning candidate in every presidential election since 2004.

Biden carries rosary beads in his pocket and often speaks about his faith. If elected, he would be the second Catholic president, after John F. Kennedy 60 years ago.

His support of abortion rights puts him at odds with some conservative Catholics. For them, abortion is the "preeminent issue," a view that reflects the official position of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.


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