Faith and the election, frontrunner edition

Now that the field has been winnowed down, Time is taking another look at the leading contenders for the Democratic nomination, recounting the mistakes made in 2004 and how today’s candidates seem to have learned from them in a sidebar to coverage of Super Tuesday.

Backstage at the Target Center in Minneapolis before a rally earlier this month, Barack Obama engaged in one of his pregame rituals: the presidential candidate joined a circle of young campaign supporters and staff, clasped hands with those on either side of him and prayed.

Hillary Clinton, his rival for the Democratic nomination, has talked on the campaign trail about the “prayer warriors” who support her, and her campaign has made sure that primary voters know that Clinton used to host church picnics at the governor’s mansion in Arkansas.

If the Democratic ticket in November is able to capture a greater share of religious voters than in previous elections, it will be because both Obama and Clinton have rejected their party’s traditional fight- or-flight reaction to religion. For decades, the men and women who ran the Democratic Party and its campaigns bought into the conservative spin that the faithful were pro-life, right-wing and most certainly not Democratic voters. Armed with this mind-set, political professionals gave themselves permission to ignore religion and the religious. And in 2004, John Kerry paid the price for that decision.

That’s here, and adapted from Amy Sullivan’s forthcoming book, The Party Faithful: How and Why Democrats Are Closing the God Gap.

What makes this even more notable is that on the Republican side, McCain’s emergence as the frontrunner has prompted Bob Fischer, a South Dakota businessman and anti-abortion activist, to announce that he will be “working in other ways to see that we have additional choices as conservatives,” according to an Associated Press story:

He declined to elaborate, but held out hope that Mike Huckabee might mount an improbable comeback, or that another “good conservative, Godly, Christian pro-life” GOP candidate somehow emerge to supplant McCain. The Arizona lawmaker has opposed abortion during his four terms in the Senate.

Fischer also volunteered an alternative scenario: supporting the nominee of the fledgling Constitution Party.

Last fall, Fischer called a meeting in Salt Lake City as Christian conservative leaders attended a separate gathering of the ultra-secretive Council for National Policy, an umbrella group for the movement.

Most attendees of Fischer’s meeting, including Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, agreed to support a minor-party candidate if Giuliani emerged as the Republican nominee, according to Dobson and others in attendance. Another group suggested creating a new party, but no consensus emerged, Dobson wrote in an op-ed in The New York Times.

Several Christian conservative leaders, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Fischer has invited them to a follow-up meeting next month in New Orleans coinciding with another Council for National Policy meeting.

Fischer would not confirm nor deny a meeting, but said, “If I told you we were, I think the success of that meeting would be greatly compromised.”

That’s from here.

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