Democrats name pastor to lead faith outreach

October 20, 2011

As President Obama gears up his reelection campaign, the Dem­ocratic
National Committee has tapped a well-connected Washington pastor to lead
the party's religious outreach. He is Derrick Harkins, senior pastor of
Nineteenth Street Baptist Church, one of Washing­ton's oldest
historically black churches. Obama and his family worshiped there
shortly before his inauguration.

Harkins is also a board member of
the National Association of Evangeli­cals, a nationwide umbrella group,
and Faith in Public Life, a liberal strategy center.

"I have
every expectation that people of faith will be a key part of a
successful election for Democrats in 2012," Harkins said on October 20.
The pastor added that he will attempt to engage religious Americans on
immigration reform, Obama's new health-care law and the role of religion
in public life.

Joshua DuBois, who currently directs the White
House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Part­ner­ships, ran
religious outreach for Obama's 2008 campaign and helped him gain a
larger percentage of supporters among Catholics, Jews, mainline
Protestants and evangelicals
than did Senator John Kerry's 2004 campaign.

As a federally commissioned officer, DuBois now is barred from some campaign activities, including fund-raising.

Harkins
is stepping into a role the DNC left empty during the 2010 midterm
campaign, an absence that some party insiders blamed for large swaths of
religious voters turning to the GOP.

Burns Strider, one of those
critical voices, immediately praised Harkins's appointment. "We fail in
our politics and causes when we fail to dialogue with and build
relationships in our faith communities," said Strider, who led faith
outreach for Hillary Rod­ham Clinton's 2008 presidential
campaign. —RNS