Washington Prowler

Kerry Most Presumptive

The most political Catholic since Savonarola. Plus: Cynthia McKinney’s open door.

By 3.30.04

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PLAYING MARTYR
Presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry and his campaign staff have done everything to portray him as a solid, mainstream Roman Catholic, claiming that he demands that his staff make time for his attendance to Sunday services and that he is a weekly communicant.

That image of a practicing Irish Catholic is what Kerry has been putting forward, harking to the time of John F. Kennedy, when Catholics across the country voted to put one of their own in the White House.

"Catholics are definitely a constituency we are courting," says a Kerry adviser in Washington. "Here we have a practicing Catholic, who is in line with the majority of American practicing Catholics. Rome may not be thrilled with the Senator's position on some of the social issues, but the pope doesn't have a vote in this election. But there are probably millions of pro-choice Catholics who do, and Kerry is their man."

The Kerry campaign was said to be surprised at the coverage their candidate received for attending Mass while on vacation in Idaho. "You saw conservatives all up in arms that he was receiving communion, when most American Catholics do the same thing and live a life very similar to the senator's: divorced, pro-choice, etcetera," says the Kerry adviser. "It just highlights how out of touch the right wing is with America, and we can play to that."

To that end, according to other sources inside the Kerry camp, aides are attempting to identify a Catholic diocese, and perhaps even a specific priest and church, where Kerry could attend a Mass with reporters present, and be turned away at the altar attempting to receive communion.

Under Roman Catholic doctrine, a priest can withhold communion from someone who is known to be either in a serious state of sin, or who should otherwise be disqualified from receiving the sacrament. It is a rule that is almost never invoked, and almost certainly has never been used as a political ploy, either by the church or a politician seeking some kind of photo opportunity.

In the past calls have been made to excommunicate liberal politicians not in agreement with the Church's teachings on abortion, former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo, for example, or more recently, Sen. Tom Daschle of South Dakota. But neither man was officially sanctioned by his respective bishop.

Kerry's situation should be no different. But Kerry and his staff are apparently willing to use the Catholic Church as a political wedge, and hope that some politically conservative priest will be willing to take the bait.

NEW DAY FOR CYNTHIA
Monday's announcement that first-term Congresswoman Denise Majette was running for the U.S. Senate took almost everyone by surprise. Majette is a Democrat from Georgia whom Republicans helped elect in 2002 by crossing over to vote for her in the Democratic primary over Bush-bashing left-winger Rep. Cynthia McKinney.

Majette, who previously had worked as a state judge, is not widely known in the state and has no statewide fundraising base. But Democrats have had a difficult time finding a challenger to fill retiring Sen. Zell Miller's seat, and few political pundits expect the Democrats to hold on to it.

Majette's announcement opens the door for McKinney to make another run for her seat after losing to Majette in a primary that focused on McKinney's various conspiracy theories about the president's role in the September 11th attacks.

McKinney had also been talking about running for president as an independent. Last we checked, Rev. Al Sharpton hadn't decided on a running mate.

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