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Biden's fellow Catholics helped deliver him to the White House

Biden's fellow Catholics helped deliver him to the White House
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For only the second time in the history of the United States, a Catholic will be sworn in as president. If history is any indication, on Jan. 20, 2021, President-elect Joe BidenJoe BidenPennsylvania Supreme Court strikes down GOP bid to stop election certification Biden looks to career officials to restore trust, morale in government agencies Biden transition adds new members to coronavirus task force MORE will place his left hand on a family bible that has been in his family since 1893, and swear the same Oath of Office that his fellow Catholic, John F. Kennedy, swore 60 years ago to the day.

Towards the end of his victory speech last Saturday in Wilmington, Del., President-elect Biden directly referenced his Catholic faith, invoking a familiar hymn: “And he will raise you up on eagle’s wings, bear you on the breath of dawn, make you to shine like the sun, and hold you in the palm of his hand.” The hymn is a mainstay for funerals — and Biden invoked the memory of his beloved son, Beau, when introducing the song and spoke directly to Americans who had lost a loved one to COVID-19.

Biden’s commitment to his faith has been a constant, not just on the campaign trail with frequent Sunday visits to St. Joseph on the Brandywine Catholic Church and Beau’s gravesite on the church grounds, but throughout his career in public life. The president-elect’s faith harkens back to an earlier vision of Catholicism — one of individual, quiet, consistent devotion.

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In that vein, Biden’s approach has been similar to other Catholic leaders, including Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiClub for Growth to launch ad blitz in Georgia to juice GOP turnout Governors take heat for violating their own coronavirus restrictions Spending deal clears obstacle in shutdown fight MORE — a faith that informs and directs, but isn’t preachy or showy. Indeed, you could sum up Biden’s Catholic faith in the words of one his favorite theologians (often referenced on the campaign trail), Soren Kierkegaard, who wrote “faith sees best in the dark.” 

For Biden, a post-Vatican II Catholic who came of age around the same time as President Kennedy’s rise to national prominence, this particular faith practice clearly resonated with working class Catholics in key midwestern and battleground states, including Michigan and Wisconsin.

While President TrumpDonald John TrumpPennsylvania Supreme Court strikes down GOP bid to stop election certification Biden looks to career officials to restore trust, morale in government agencies Sunday shows preview: US health officials brace for post-holiday COVID-19 surge MORE “won support from about 8 in 10 white evangelical Christian voters in his race for reelection, Catholic voters split almost evenly between him and Democratic opponent Joe Biden, according to AP VoteCast.” Indeed, according to exit polling from the AP, 50 percent of Catholics backed Trump and 49 percent supported Biden.

Just four years ago, then-candidate Donald Trump won the clear majority of Catholic voters against Secretary Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonGroups seek to get Black vote out for Democrats in Georgia runoffs Biden's political position is tougher than Trump's Valadao unseats Cox in election rematch MORE, 52 percent to 45 percent — a seven-point spread. Since 2004, Catholics, as a voting bloc, threw their support behind the eventual winner in each presidential match-up: Bush in 2004, Obama in 2008 and 2012, and Trump in 2016.

In 2020, Catholic Americans accounted for approximately 22 percent of the electorate — more than one-fifth of all votes cast. While similar to other religious groups and voting behavior, the Catholic vote is not monolithic, with clear divides among ethnicity and race. A closer look shows “Among white Catholics, 57 percent backed Trump and 42 percent backed Biden, according to VoteCast. In 2016, Trump won 64 percent of the white Catholics and Clinton won 31 percent, according to a Pew Research analysis of voters.” The 11-point swing of support by white Catholics, along with the strong support of Hispanic Catholics (67 percent backed Biden and 32 percent backed Trump) would explain key elements of the president-elect’s victory. A return of white Catholics helped swing predominately Catholic states like Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin back to the Democratic column, just as an influx of Hispanic Catholic support helped flip a state like Arizona, something that we have not seen since 1996.

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Last Thursday, the president-elect spoke by phone with Pope Francis. The readout from the Biden-Harris transition team highlighted elements of the conversation ranging from a shared commitment to “caring for the marginalized and the poor, addressing the crisis of climate change, and welcoming and integrating immigrants and refugees into our communities.”

No doubt the conversation between America’s second Catholic President-elect and the leader of the Catholic Church likely also turned to the graveness of the COVID-19 pandemic ravaging nearly every corner of the world. It is altogether fitting then that the election took place on Nov. 3 — a day that Catholics celebrate as the feast day of St. Martin de Porres, a 16th century saint who established a children’s hospital and provided care for the sick during an epidemic that had broken out in Lima, Peru. In 1962, when he was Canonized by Pope John XXIII, St. Martin de Porres became the patron saint of public health workers and social justice. It is dangerous to ever infer the work of the Holy Spirit — a guiding force Catholics believe deeply in as part of the Holy Trinity — but it is certainly fitting that the first national election to take place during an international pandemic in over one hundred years landed on this saint’s feast day.

The president-elect makes it a point at the end of every speech to say, “May God protect our troops,” a clear and instant connection to his late son, Beau, and all service members across the world.

May God protect President-elect Joe Biden — and St. Martin de Porres pray for us.

Kevin Walling (@kevinpwalling), a Catholic, is a Democratic strategist, Vice President at HGCreative, co-founder of Celtic Strategies, and a regular guest on Fox News, Fox Business and Bloomberg TV and Radio.