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In tight Senate fight, Warren, Brown reach out to black clergy

Kevin C. Peterson

With less than two weeks remaining in one of the most watched U.S. Senatorial campaigns in Massachusetts history, the race between U.S. Senator Scott Brown and Harvard Professor Elizabeth Warren is resulting in unprecedented attention directed to an unlikely source: the black church.

Quietly, both Senate candidates have adopted a strategy of reaching out to black churches across the state, hoping to tap into a wealth of voters who are more likely to visit the election polls on Nov. 6 than any other sector of the African American community.

For Warren, a Democrat, campaigning within the black church circuit was expected, as blacks are considered a reliable base of voters for Democrats.  But lately her campaign has invested significantly more time in visiting houses of worship to ensure that she makes contact with devout black parishioners.

Last Sunday in Springfield, Warren campaigned in as many as four prominent African American churches across the city, including Alban Baptist Church, Cannan Baptist, St. John Congregational Church and The Macedonia Church.

The congregation at Macedonia held special symbolism for the Warren campaign, as the building had recently been restored after arsons set fire to the structure nearly four years ago — hours after President Barack Obama was elected.  The fire was deemed to be a hate crime.

“This senatorial race is very heated and I believe that the vote that comes out of the black church will be the deciding vote,” said Pastor William Dickerson III, who leads the Greater Love Tabernacle in Dorchester and who is president of the Massachusetts Statewide Black Clergy.  Warren visited Dickerson’s church in June.

For Brown, the attempt to attract the attention of the black faith community has quickened recently.  Last week, Brown addressed members of the Black Ministerial Alliance to defend his record on work on behalf of urban voters.  He stressed his efforts in creating anti-mortgage foreclosure policies that he says have abated home losses in the black community. 

Brown also cited a job fair held at the Roxbury Community College in the Spring and trumpeted his effort that led to the release of a prominent Dorchester pastor who was abducted in Egypt last summer.

But some balked at what they believe is a last-minute outreach effort by the Brown campaign.

“I think that it is important that both of them come to the black churches to campaign and be assessable  to black voters,” says Minister Franklin Hobbes, executive director of Healing Our Land and a well-known gospel radio show host on Boston Praise Radio. “And I am glad to hear that Senator Brown is reaching out to the churches, but in general he has not been [accessible] and that is offensive to me.”

“In my opinion, I think that Brown is fearful that Warren has momentum in the black community and is now [trying] to make a push here at the last minute,” added Hobbes, who says that the Brown campaign has not responded to several request to appear on his show. Hobbes admitted that Warren also has not appeared on the black-oriented religious station.

Brown appeared at the Grace Church of All Nations Sunday, where he professed his faith and urged congregants to examine his record and then give him a vote.

“I’m committed to this community and you can count on me to be there for you,” said Brown.

“Win or lose this race I will be back here to worship with you,” he said to a audience of 700 who punctuated Brown’s remark’s with affirmations of “Amen!” and “preach it!”

Weeks earlier, Warren visited the same church, delivering a sermon that she said articulated her reason for running for the Senate.

“I am running because it’s important that we look out for people who haven’t had the big advantages in life,” she said, referencing scripture in the Book of Matthew in the Bible. “This is what the Bible says we should do and I am here as a candidate to work as your senator … I need your vote.”

Both candidates participated separately in the Souls To The Polls campaign forum held at Grace, which was designed to give the black faith community access to issues relating to the presidential and U.S. Senate races.  The Souls To The Polls effort is a collaboration between the New Democracy Coalition, Grace Church of All Nations and the Statewide Black Clergy of Massachusetts.

Bishop A. Livingston Foxworth said he was encouraged that Warren and Brown were visiting black congregations. 

“We wanted to provide a non-partisan forum to clarify for believers of Christ what issues are at stake and what issues should be relevant to them,” Foxworth said. “We were glad to have Senator Brown and Professor Warren come to Grace Church of All Nations. We encourage Christians to participate in the political system and engage in voting [for] candidates who will do the most good for society, especially the poor.”

According to a 2009 Pew Forum on Religious and Public Life survey, 61 percent of black churchgoers believe that houses of worship “should express their views on social and political matters.”

 In the same poll, 70 percent of all church attending African Americans report that they prefer bigger government that supports social programming.