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Silent witnesses

"Silent witnesses" Continued...

Issue: "Big bucks ministries," July 28, 2007

On drug addiction, for example, Democrats lean toward "harm reduction" strategies such as needle-exchange and methadone programs. "That's not leading people out of addiction, that's subsidizing addiction, instead of getting at the root causes which are much more spiritual in nature than Democrats want to admit," Loconte said. "Democrats are going to have a hard time convincing conservative orthodox religious believers that, for example, Hillary Clinton is going to represent their views on key moral issues."

But there is an emerging group of young evangelicals who focus less on moral issues like abortion. Initiatives on AIDS by Rick Warren and his Saddleback Church and other social issues have touched a cord with that group, Loconte said. Still, Warren has managed to extend the "social gospel" aspect of his ministry without sacrificing the gospel itself, something that has not been true of the mainline churches to which the faith-talk of Clinton and Obama seems to appeal.

Thus far, Democrats' faith-talk leading into the 2008 campaign has not seemed to produce many "swing evangelicals," an elusive voter demographic that electoral scholars insist is waiting in the wings. In November 2006, Democrats swept both houses of Congress. But exit polls showed that Democratic gains were concentrated among non-Christian and secular voters, with only slight gains among weekly church attenders, including white evangelical Protestants (3 percent), white mainline Protestants (2 percent), black Protestants (4 percent), and white Catholics (6 percent).

"Some people seem very eager to find this vital swing vote in the evangelical community," Loconte said. "But Democrats have been talking about faith since at least 2000. If the swing evangelical is out there, the question is, when are they going to start swinging?"

For people like Herb Lusk, the answer may be never: "Until the Democratic Party changes its core values and philosophy," he said, "their religious outreach is going to fall on deaf ears for me."

-with reporting by Priya Abraham in Washington, D.C.

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