Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama turned up the heat on his faith outreach in Kentucky, which holds its primary on Tuesday, by distributing fliers of him speaking in front of a big illuminated cross.
"Faith. Hope. Change," reads the bold printed words at the top of the flier. Then below the picture of the glowing cross is a message from Obama about his Christian faith.
"My faith teaches me that I can sit in church and pray all I want," Obama is quoted on the flier. "But I won't be fulfilling God's will unless I go out and do the Lord's work."
The flier is the latest push by the likely Democratic presidential nominee to court religious voters. The faith flier coupled with TV and radio ads that began running in Kentucky last week seek to emphasize that Obama is Christian.
"We want people to know what is important to him, and a large part of that is his Christian faith," said Obama spokesman Clark Stevens, to Kentucky-based The Courier-Journal newspaper.
However, some pundits commented that the effort has deeper purposes: of assuring American voters that Obama is a normal Christian after the recent controversy with his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, who had made anti-American remarks; of quelling rumors that he is a closet Muslim; and to prepare for the November general election against presumptive Republican nominee John McCain.
"They believe they can compete with McCain and the Republicans on the faith vote," said David Brody, a senior correspondent with the Christian Broadcasting Network, to Fox News.
"McCain doesn't want to talk about his faith all that much," Brody said. "Barack Obama is comfortable talking about that. … He's speaking evangelical talk, so to speak, and that resonates."
Brody says Obama is trying to woo moderate evangelical voters away from McCain. He noted that Obama is not going after the old-guard evangelicals, but younger, more moderate evangelicals that will not automatically reject him because of his support for abortion and gay rights.
Obama was endorsed by a major pro-choice group last week, and his campaign says he "respects" the California Supreme Court decision to overturn the state's ban on gay "marriage," according to Fox News.
Looking ahead to the general election, John Green, a senior fellow at the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, said the Kentucky faith outreach will serve as "an interesting taste test to see how well the campaign's efforts are working," particularly among white, working-class voters in key swing states, according to the Wall Street Journal.
A Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life survey released this year found that 85 percent of Kentuckians identified themselves as Christians. A Courier-Journal Bluegrass Poll in 2007 found that 49.8 percent of those surveyed were self-described evangelicals or born-again Christians.
On Sunday, Mike Huckabee, a former Republican presidential candidate, commented on Obama's cross ad while on NBC's "Meet the Press." He took case with the media's different response to Obama's cross ad versus his famous Christmas ad, in which the edges of white bookcases in the background formed what looked like a cross.
"I think it's interesting that nobody's jumping on Obama for this very blatant cross in his ad. And I took grief for months," Huckabee said. "I'm still taking it, over something that wasn't even a cross. It was a bookshelf, for heaven's sake."
The ex-Arkansas governor criticized the double standard that exists for Republicans and Democrats who speak about their faith in campaigns.
"If Republicans even get near a church, we are accused of embracing it," he said.
Nevertheless, he praised Obama as a "person of faith."
Past faith outreaches by the Obama campaign include a Gospel concert tour in South Carolina, meeting with evangelical Hispanic leaders, and participating in faith forums.