Nation & World

Palin seen as asset to win evangelical vote

When two prominent evangelical Christians from Florida agreed to speak at the Democratic National Convention, the party proudly pointed to Barack Obama's aggressive outreach to a traditionally Republican voting bloc.

But one, a Christian magazine publisher, decided not to go on stage, and the other, the Rev. Joel Hunter, who gave the benediction after Obama's speech, said Tuesday he is ''laying low'' until after the election.

Meanwhile, several leaders of the religious right in Florida say they are more enthused than ever about Republican John McCain, pointing to his strong performance at a nationally televised forum at a California church and his staunchly anti-abortion running mate, Sarah Palin.

''Any success Obama was having has been halted and reversed by Gov. Palin's addition to the ticket,'' declared Mathew Staver, chairman of the Liberty Counsel, a religious conservative group based in Orlando. "I'm seeing energy that was not even rivaled in the highest days of President Bush's reelection in 2004 or even during Ronald Reagan's time.''

Obama's camp is not deterred, pointing to 1,677 ''faith captains'' around Florida who are mobilizing voters in their churches and synagogues. In a sign that the campaign is taking pains to reach the African-American slice of the Christian community, two prominent black Democrats, U.S. Reps. John Conyers of Michigan and John Lewis of Georgia, are meeting this week with religious leaders in Florida.

Joshua DuBois, Obama's national director of religious affairs, said the attendance by Hunter and Relevant magazine publisher Cameron Strang at the Democratic convention showed the campaign was making inroads. Hunter, who leads the 12,000-member Northland Church in Longwood, is a Republican who voted twice for President Bush.

''We were never seeking or expecting [their] endorsements, and I think that speaks to the authentic nature of Barack Obama's religious outreach,'' DuBois said. ``It's a very positive movement.''

Strang, who participated in a faith caucus at the convention but decided that speaking on national television would be too political, said Obama has a chance to peel away evangelicals, particularly the younger voters who read his magazine. Obama has effectively emphasized areas of common ground, like social justice and the environment, Strang said. But he warned of a backlash if Democrats hammer Palin's hard-line stance on abortion.

''If they use it as wedge issue, it will push away Christian voters and they will undo everything positive they've accomplished in terms of faith outreach,'' said Strang, who recently changed his voter registration from Republican to independent. ``I think a lot of moderate Christians are still up for grabs.''

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