Faith Vote at Play in Pennsylvania Primary

Pennsylvania faith voters are being heavily courted by the Democratic presidential candidates ahead of next week's primary, when this voting bloc is expected to play a significant role in the contest result.

About one-fifth of Pennsylvania's adult population is evangelical, according to the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. Another 29 percent of the adult population are self-described Catholics.

Experts say the "faith vote" will be a factor in the state's April 22 primary, when Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton go head-to-head for the Democratic Party's nomination, according to Reuters.

The Pennsylvania showdown is considered a make-or-break contest for Clinton. Obama currently leads in delegate counts, 1,644, and states won, according to CNN. Clinton has 1,498 delegates.

Given the significance of next week's primary, both candidates sought to court faith voters this past weekend by taking part in a discussion about their faith and how it influences their decision on moral issues in Pennsylvania. The Compassion Forum, held nine days before the state's primary and broadcasted by CNN, provided a platform for the Democratic candidates to court Pennsylvania faith voters.

Candidates answered a wide range of questions, some of which were asked by prominent Christian leaders. Questions covered such topics as abortion, health care, poverty, torture, Darfur, and climate change.

"I think you will find a lot of evangelicals here will break for Obama. His charisma and message resonate with evangelicals who have expanded their agenda to look beyond abortion and gay marriage," said Dean Curry, a political scientist at Messiah College, where the forum was held, according to Reuters.

Clinton had double-digit leads over Obama in Pennsylvania until recently. In the past two weeks, polls showed the Illinois senator was closing the gap to within 5 percentage points. Obama, however, holds a 50 percent to 42 percent lead over Clinton in national Democratic voters' nomination preferences, according to the latest Gallup Poll Daily tracking update.

Beyond next week's primary, candidates will continue to keep an eye on Pennsylvania because it is considered a swing state and could go either way in November. One obstacle the Democratic nominee will face among Pennsylvania faith voters in the general election is the abortion issue. Most Catholics and evangelicals are against abortion and will likely still be hesitant to support a pro-choice candidate.

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