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Democrats Intensify Efforts to Reach Faith Voters

By Michelle Boorstein
The Democratic faith outreach industry is growing.

The two-person consulting firm behind much of the Democratic Party's recent embrace of religion -- Common Good Strategies -- has morphed into two parts: a PAC focusing on raising Obama money from faith voters and an expanded consulting group with four partners, including the faith adviser from Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's campaign.

The unveiling today of the Eleison Group -- named after the Christian prayer Kyrie Eleison -- shows the maturation of a field that was essentially non-existent three years ago as many high-level Democratic candidates shied from using faith language or talking about their own religious beliefs.

Today many religion and politics experts believe the top Democratic presidential candidates this year -- including Sens. John Edwards, Clinton and Obama -- have talked more freely about faith than many of the top GOP candidates, including Sen. John McCain.

Among the Eleison Group's co-founders are:

Burns Strider, Clinton's faith outreach director and a former Southern Baptist Convention missionary to Hong Kong.

Eric Sapp, senior partner at Common Good Strategies, which opened its doors in 2005 and did then-unprecedented faith work with Democratic governors Ted Strickland of Ohio, Jennifer Granholm of Michigan and Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas, as well as Sens. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania and Sherrod Brown of Ohio.

The new group's client list includes Virginia Congressional candidate Tom Perriello, the Michigan Democratic Party, Oxfam and the Matthew 25 Network - the new pro-Obama PAC focusing on faith voters.

It's unclear how much success the movement will have in the 2008 presidential race. A Washington Post-ABC poll done earlier this month showed the percentage of white evangelical voters -- who make up a little less than a fifth of registered voters -- who say they lean Republican is at about 66 percent, compared with 29 percent who lean Democratic -- numbers not significantly changed since 2004. Voters in general, however, have shifted towards the Democrats.

Democrats point to research showing loyalities could be shifting. According to recent data from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, the percentage of white evangelical Protestants aged 18 to 29 who identify as Republican has dropped 15 points between 2002 and 2007, a steeper drop than among the age group overall. Two-thirds of those who have shifted now identify as independent.

By Washington Post Editors  |  June 24, 2008; 5:34 PM ET
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