E.J. Dionne, Jr. might be onto something here, though Id want to hear Lucas Morels take on it:
Democrats all over the country will study how this devout Catholic explained his opposition to the death penalty as a matter of deep religious concern. The strangest thing is that because the death penalty issue encouraged Kaine to talk about his faith, it may have helped him with conservative voters.
"This is a very good proving ground for the belief that Democrats can talk about values and their faith and it will make a difference," said Karl Struble, a top Kaine adviser.
David Eichenbaum, another Kaine adviser, noted how faith immunized Kaine from the dreaded L-word. Focus groups were shown "the worst attacks against Tim that they would use to make him into a big bad liberal." The groups were then shown footage of Kaine "talking about the importance to him of his religious values and convictions." The result? "Almost to a person, they would say that he must be a moderate or a conservative, and that he couldnt be a liberal."
I have two thoughts. First, everyone liked Joe Liebermans faith, and look how far it got him in the Democratic primaries. Times have changed a little, but have they changed that much for the Democratic primary electorate? Second, Id want to know what Kaine said about abortion. If his position on abortion lined up with his opposition to the death penalty--following what the Catholic bishops have called the "seamless garment" approach--then Id give him points for sincerity, but wonder about how well that position would fare in the presidential primaries. And if his opposition to the death penalty is "faith-based," but he doesnt oppose abortion, Im not sure he should have gotten the kind of pass Dionne says he got from the voters.
Stated another way, while abortion isnt and shouldnt be a litmus test, how seriously a candidate grapples with it and how willing he or she is to take on the NARAL wing of the Democratic Party ought to tell voters something about how sincere or stategic the talk about religion is.