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Confusion grows about Obama's religion

Update, 2:15 p.m.: The White House released a statement moments ago re-stating President Obama's status as a "committed Christian".

Said White House deputy communications director Jen Psaki:

"President Obama is a committed Christian, and his faith is an important part of his daily life. He prays every day, he seeks a small circle of Christian pastors to give him spiritual advice and counseling, he even receives a daily devotional that he uses each morning. The President's Christian faith is a part of who he is, but not a part of what the public or the media is focused on everyday."

"The poll's findings are not surprising given the scope of the issues we are focused on-a recovering economy, bringing troops home from Iraq, putting healthcare and financial reform implementation in place. The President's strong Christian faith is what guides him through these challenges but he doesn't wear it on his sleeve."

Original Post

1. There is widespread -- and growing -- confusion about President Barack Obama's religious affiliation with one in five Americans now saying (incorrectly) that he is a Muslim, according to a new national poll conducted by the Pew Research Center.

Fully 18 percent of those tested in Pew's annual religion and public life survey said that Obama was a Muslim, a significant increase from a March 2009 Pew poll where 11 percent said the president adhered to the tenets of Islam.

(Worth noting: The Pew survey was conducted in late July and early August -- prior to the President's remarks about the New York City mosque.)

While nearly half of the Pew sample (48 percent) last March correctly identified Obama as a Christian that number, too, dropped precipitously -- down to 34 percent -- in the new Pew poll. The number of people who said they were unsure exactly what the President's religious affiliation was rose from 34 percent to 43 percent.

Not surprisingly, there was a strong linkage between those who wrongly believe Obama is a Muslim and those who disapprove of the job he is doing as president. Of the 41 percent who disapprove of the job he is doing, fully two-thirds identify say the President is a Muslim.

In terms of political affiliation, the sharpest rise in those who say Obama is a Muslim is among Republicans (up 14 points) since 2009. But, the religion question is also not purely partisan; among independents the number of those describing Obama as a Muslim is up eight points since last March and the number of Democrats identifying him correctly as a Christian is down from 55 percent to 46 percent.

"The overall picture here is of growing confusion or uncertainty about the President's own faith," said Alan Cooperman, associate director of the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

The poll suggests that the persistent untruths that dogged Obama's presidential campaign regarding his associations with Islam remain -- and are even growing -- as Obama finishes up his second year as the nation's commander-in-chief.

The political ramifications of the growing uncertainty regarding Obama's religious affiliation are more difficult to ascertain.

There is, without question, some significant level of partisanship inherent in questions about Obama's faith; the less you like the President, the more likely you are to say he is a Muslim. And, in truth, that 18 percent who falsely identify the President with the Islamic faith would almost certainly never be voting for him anyway.

Perhaps more important from an electoral perspective, however, is the growing number of people who don't know what religion the President identifies with. While most Americans don't tend to vote based on religious faith -- although being either a Muslim or a Mormon can, among certain demographic groups, complicate a politician's electoral calculus -- they do like to believe that their president is a man of faith.

Religion humanizes a president for many people, allows them to identify on a very basic level with the most powerful man in the world. For a president whose detractors have scored political points by painting him as aloof and uncaring, religion could be a bridge by which he connects to the average person. The Pew poll suggests work still remains to be done in building that connection.

2. The Democratic National Committee raised $11.5 million in July and ended the month with $10.8 million cash on hand, according to a party official briefed on the fundraising numbers.

The DNC has also transferred $3.5 million to state parties so far this year and now have organizing staff in every state. It added $2.5 million to its cash on hand total over the last month but still carried $3.5 million in debt.

Democratic National Committee chairman Tim Kaine will make formally announce the committee's annual summer meeting in St. Louis later today.

The Republican National Committee has not yet released its fundraising numbers for July but there is a widespread expectation that they are headed for a very difficult month. The biggest problem? The revelation last month that the RNC had failed to report better than $3 million in debt in April and May that could badly cut into the $10.8 million the committee reported on hand at the end of June. (The RNC showed $2 million in debt at that time.

The RNC has also been riven by a public feud between Chairman Michael Steele and Treasurer Randy Pullen and growing concerns that the committee simply won't have enough money to fund turnout efforts in swing states this fall.

At a gathering in Kansas City earlier this month, committee officials told RNC members that they would spend better than $100 million on the 2010 election despite the fact that they have raised only $49 million as of the end of June.

3. Retired Louisiana Supreme Court Justice Chet Traylor is up with a scathing new radio ad in his primary challenge against Sen. David Vitter (R-La.).

"A judge found Vitter committed battery on a woman. It was an unprovoked attack," the narrator of the ad says. "Next, Vitter's notorious scandal with the D.C. madam. She ran an escort service for powerful men in Washington -- if you know what I mean. Then a former prostitute said she, well, 'serviced' Vitter on numerous occasions in New Orleans. That's family values, right?"

The ad goes on to slam Vitter for not firing Brent Furer, a staffer who allegedly "(held) his girlfriend hostage while slashing her face with a knife."

The ad came even as Furer was back in the news as the Baton Rouge Morning-Advocate reported late Wednesday that he twice traveled to Louisiana in connection with court appearances for drunk driving charge on the taxpayers' dime.

Traylor is widely regarded as a nuisance rather than a real threat to Vitter in the Aug. 28 -- yes, it's a Saturday -- primary. Traylor's had his own share of personal problems, including allegations of two extramarital affairs -- he is currently romantically involved with the estranged wife of his stepson -- that blunt the credibility of any attack he might make on Vitter's character.

Traylor also lags far behind Vitter in the money race. His most recent fundraising report shows that he had about $41,000 cash on hand, compared to $5.4 million for Vitter.

But, that doesn't mean ads like these won't have an impact. Traylor is doing some of Democrats' dirty work for them by airing Vitter's dirty laundry. Rep. Charlie Melancon, the Democratic nominee, is also hammering away at Vitter with an ad that cites the controversy over Furer.

4. Vermont Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie (R) has built a big cash advantage in the state's open seat governor's contest, while a field of five Democrats battles for the right to face him.

Dubie has raised more than $1 million, spent a little more than half and maintains a wide lead in cash on hand.

None of the five Democrats running in next Tuesday's primary had even $100,000 cash on hand at of the start of the week, while Dubie has around $460,000 in the bank. Secretary of State Deb Markowitz and state Sen. Peter Shumlin lead the way in the Democratic money chase with roughly $600,000 raised.

Markowitz and Shumlin face former state Sen. Matt Dunne and state Sens. Sue Bartlett and Doug Racine in the primary. There have been no public polls on the race since early this year, so it appears to be anyone's ballgame at this point.

Despite the clear Democratic lean of the Green Mountain State, Republicans believe that Dubie's strong fundraising and experience as a statewide elected official makes the state a real retention chance this fall.

5. Tennessee farmer/gospel singer Stephen Fincher (R) has emerged from a bruising House primary earlier this month with a double-digit lead over state Sen. Roy Herron (D), according to a new poll released by his campaign.

Fincher leads Herron 47 percent to 37 percent in the open 8th district in a poll conducted by the Tarrance Group.

The poll finds that despite the millions of dollars spent against him in the primary (he won a majority of the vote against two self-funders earlier this month) Fincher is viewed unfavorably by just 15 percent of voters while 38 percent view him favorably. Herron's favorabile number is 23 percent with a 19 percent unfavorable number.

The district is firmly aligned against President Barack Obama, according to the poll, with 41 percent approving of his performance and 55 percent disapproving.

Despite the conservative nature of the district, Herron's big financial edge ($1.2 million on hand) and a messy GOP primary had Republicans worried that this potential pickup could slip through their hands.

"We're going to make sure people learn about Fincher's risky plans" to outsource jobs and privatize social security, Herron spokesman Brandon Puttbrese promised.

With Aaron Blake and Felicia Sonmez

By Chris Cillizza  | August 19, 2010; 7:54 AM ET
Categories:  Morning Fix  
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