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Religion not much of a problem for Haley in South Carolina

Peter Hamby, CNN's stellar on-the-scene producer, talks to South Carolina pols and evangelicals to suss out how much voters are worrying about front-runner Nikki Haley's religion -- something the Haley campaign tipped its hand on, by repeatedly updating the language about her religion on its Web site. If there's a hurdle, it's Haley's decision to keep attending the occasional Sikh service -- the only problem raised by Hamby's sources.

Ray Popham, pastor of Oasis Church International in Aiken, said Haley's religion is a "big topic" among his congregants, who have posted notes about her religion on Facebook and have lately approached him for advice about the governor's race. "She claims to be a Christian but also attends a Sikh temple and was married in a Sikh ceremony, so a lot of people can't figure how you can claim both," Popham told CNN. "I think she needs to be straight up with people, if she is both. If she believes that you can be both, then she should say that up front."

Let's think back to the 2003 and 2007 gubernatorial bids of now-Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-La.). In 2003, Jindal was leading in a runoff against Lt. Gov. Kathleen Blanco, but lost on Election Day because of weak support in some white areas that typically went strong for Republicans. Conservatives were outraged and floated theories about racism egged on by dirty tricks from Democrats. In 2007, Democrats briefly referred to Jindal by his given name, Piyush, and were quickly smacked down. We're talking different electorates here, but we're talking about two southern states where Republicans got to support Indian American candidates who'd converted to Christianity, and did so with gusto.

By David Weigel  |  June 15, 2010; 5:55 PM ET
Categories:  2010 Election  
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