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Trump names heavyweight group of Catholic advisers

Republican Donald Trump seeks to reassure Catholic voters with appointment of solid conservatives to an advisory group of Catholic leaders.

Republican presidential nominee Donald J. Trump, who has struggled with Catholic voters in some polls, on Wednesday named an advisory council of respected conservative Catholic leaders.

The list of 33 advisors includes prominent Pennsylvanians, such as former Republican Sen. Rick Santorum, who ran for president in 2012 and 2016; Faith Whittlesey, former U.S. ambassador to Switzerland and a high-ranking political official in the Reagan White House; and U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly, Republican of Butler.

Trump, who expressed support for abortion rights earlier in his public career – he has said he changed his mind – has had difficulty winning the trust of some Catholic activists on abortion and other issues.

"The choice for Catholics in this presidential election could not be more stark," Whittlesey said in a statement. "

"Clinton support a breathtakingly radical cultural agenda and judicial nominees which leave no room for the legal protection of the unborn and the ability of Christians to fully and freely practice their faith that is constitutionally protected by the First Amendment," she said. "Trump will fight for Catholics in defense of life, and their religious liberty."

Joseph Cella, founder of the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast, will be the chief liaison to the campaign for Catholic affairs. In March, during the primaries, Cella signed an open letter along with other Catholic intellectuals and leaders calling Trump "manifestly unfit to be president." The letter cited his vulgarity, appeal to racial and ethnic fears, and questioned whether he was committed to stopping abortion and strengthening "marriage culture."

The list of Catholic heavyweights signing on to advise Trump includes Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List; Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback; Francis Rooney, former ambassador to the Vatican and the GOP nominee in Florida's 19th U.S. House district; Matt Schlapp, president of the American Conservative Union; former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating (R); U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot, Republican of Ohio; Jim Nicholson, former Republican national chairman, secretary of veterans affairs and ambassador to the Vatican; longtime conservative leader Richard Viguerie; and Tom Monaghan of Michigan, founder of Domino's Pizza and the Ave Maria University.

Exit polls in 2012 showed that Mitt Romney won white Catholics who attended Mass at least once a month by a whopping 38 percentage points – 60 to 38 percent. A recent poll by the Public Religion Research Institute showed Trump winning this group by a slimmer 49 percent to 32 percent margin.

President Obama beat Romney overall among Catholics four years ago, but by just two percentage points (50-48). A Washington Post-ABC News Poll late in late August found that Democrat Hillary Clinton led among Catholics overall by 27 points, 61 percent to 34 percent. It was the biggest demographic shift in the Post-ABC survey, explained in large measure by Trump's dismal showing among Latinos, many of whom are Catholic. (h/t James Hohmann, author of WP's The Daily 202.)

The other advisers:

Sean Fieler, President, Chiaroscuro Foundation

Rev. Frank Pavone, National Director, Priests for Life

Chris Slattery, Founder & President, Expectant Mother Care

Rep. Andrew Harris, (R.,Md.)

Janet Morana, Co-Founder, Silent No More Campaign

John Klink, President Emeritus, International Catholic Migration Commission

Marjorie Murphy Campbell, Founder & Publisher, New Feminism

Deacon Keith Fournier, Chairman, Common Good Foundation and Common Good Alliance

Tony Maas, President & CEO of JTM Food Group

Patrick Walsh, Former Chief Secretary and Attache, US Embassy, Dublin, Ireland

Matt Smith, President, Catholic Advocate, Board Member, American Conservative Union

Austin Ruse, President, Center for Family and Human Rights

Angela Flood, Former Director, Secretariat of Communications, Archdiocese of Washington

Lou Murray, New York Life financial consultant

Lisa Bourne, journalist, LifeSiteNews

Rep. Steve Chabot (R.,Ohio).

Ed Martin, President, Eagle Forum

Chuck Mifsud, President, Catholics for Ohio

Mark Corallo, Founder, Corallo Media Strategies

Jay Shepard, RNC National Committeeman, Vermont

Rep. Sean Duffy (R., Wis.)