WASHINGTON – Seven years after George W. Bush won the presidency in part with a direct appeal to conservative religious voters, it seems all the leading 2008 presidential candidates are discussing their religious and moral beliefs, even when they’d rather not.
Democratic Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama have hired strategists to focus on reaching religious voters. Democrats in general are targeting moderate Roman Catholics, mainline Protestants and even evangelicals, hoping to put together a winning coalition.
Some top-tier Republican candidates, the natural heirs to conservative religious support, are finding the issue awkward to handle.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has been questioned so much about his Mormon faith – 46 percent of those polled by Gallup in March had a negative opinion of the religion – that he has taken to emphasizing that he is running for a secular office.
Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, a Catholic who says he gave serious consideration as a young man to becoming a priest, is fending off critics because he supports abortion rights.
In past campaigns, Republicans nearly cornered the conservative religious vote. Now, Democrats are speaking plainly about their beliefs.
“I think the majority of Americans, the people who largely decide elections, what they are looking for – particularly in these times – is a really good and decent human being to be president,” Sen. John Edwards said in an interview with the Associated Press.
Democratic Sen. Chris Dodd, a Catholic, told an April forum at Boston College that Democrats have made “a huge mistake over the years” by not talking more openly about how their personal faith informs their public-policy positions.
But Obama’s close relationship with his own pastor at Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ has become a campaign issue. The cleric’s theology emphasizes “black values” and strengthening the black community.
Seven of the 18 candidates for president – four Democrats and three Republicans – are Catholic. Besides Giuliani, the four Democrats also support abortion rights.
But support for abortion rights doesn’t necessarily hurt candidates with Catholic voters, who support legalized abortion in all or most circumstances by 53 percent to 43 percent, according to 2004 exit polling. *
Philly.com Article About Presidential Religion