Peter Flaherty
Mitt Romney has a secret, Irish Catholic weapon in Tampa this week, one that  experts say is key to him stealing away the Catholic vote from Barack Obama.  

Timothy Cardinal Dolan?  Nope.  Paul Ryan?  Nope.

His name is Peter Flaherty and he is a senior adviser to Romney, and prefers to  keep himself out of the spotlight. Which is a little odd given that Flaherty has worked in both national politics  as well as Hollywood. 

Nevertheless, Flaherty is described as one of Romney’s closest aides.  His main job?  Persuading Irish Americans and other Roman Catholics that Romney is the man they should vote for.

Much attention was paid when it was announced that Dolan would say the closing prayer at this week’s Republican Convention. “The move is perhaps the clearest sign of a more aggressive push by Republicans to win over Roman Catholic voters this election cycle,” according to The New  York Times.

But Romney’s close relationship to Flaherty is arguably more important. 

When Romney served as Massachusetts governor Flaherty was his liaison to Catholics, including Boston’s Sean Cardinal O’Malley.

While much has been made about Romney’s “invitation” (as the Times put it) to  Dolan, the New York Catholic leader also made it clear he would do the same  thing for the Democrats. Rather stupidly, the Democrats have apparently declined Dolan’s offer. 

Yes, there are major differences between the church and the Democratic Party - on gays and abortion among other things.

However, it would seem that President Obama would want to stress common ground, especially when every Catholic vote counts in battleground states like Pennsylvania, Ohio and Wisconsin.

Meanwhile, Romney’s Catholic running mate Ryan has been lauded for his  budget-cutting proposals, but guess what organization slammed Ryan for slashing social services and even misunderstanding the Catholic doctrine of “subsidiarity”? 

None other than the U.S. Conference of Catholic bishops.  And who leads that organization?  You guessed it, Timothy Cardinal Dolan.

No, if you really want to get a sense of how the Republicans are going to try  and sway Catholics away from Obama you’ve got to listen to Flaherty, who told the Times, “We’re going to have outreach to Catholics in a coordinated, organized effort — state by state, diocese by diocese, parish by parish and pew by pew.”

Flaherty grew up in Arlington, Massachusetts and graduated from the College of the Holy Cross, majoring in economics.  An Irish American aunt named Eileen Gill was murdered in Boston when Flaherty was young, and he has long said that terrible crime spurred him to fight the bad guys.

Flaherty became an assistant district attorney in Suffolk County before going to work for his brother, Michael, who runs Walden Media in Hollywood.

Flaherty returned east and began volunteering for Romney, and has been with the GOP candidate ever since. 

Inevitably, the question arises of whether or not there really is a “Catholic vote” in America. 

Obviously, the days of Roman Catholics voting largely for the party of JFK are over.  Irish and other white ethnic Catholics are much more willing to vote Republican these days, while Hispanic Catholics are generally Democratic. 

Nevertheless, it would be silly for either Romney or Obama to dismiss 25 percent of the voting population who - for all of their differences - share important key factors.

First and foremost, they are clustered in key battleground states.  Also, while polls show that a majority of American Catholics are generally not opposed to birth control and abortion, they are also reverent and respectful towards religion in a way that Republicans can take advantage of.  That’s why it seems such a blunder for the Democrats to not accept Cardinal Dolan’s offer to pray at their convention.  It is the type of small thing someone like Peter Flaherty could make a big deal out of. 

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