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Faithful in pews might not be voters in November

Republican John McCain may have a tough time in November's election if Christian conservatives stay on the sidelines during the fall campaign.

Christian conservatives provided much of the on-the-ground, door-to-door activity for President Bush's 2004 re-election in Ohio and in other swing states. Without them, the less-organized and lower-profile McCain campaign is likely to struggle to replicate Bush's success. And so far, there's been scant sign that the Republican nominee-in-waiting is making inroads among these fervent believers.

“I don't know that McCain's campaign realizes they cannot win without evangelicals,” said David Domke, a professor of communication at the University of Washington who studies religion and politics. “What you see with McCain is just a real struggle to find his footing with evangelicals.”

Family groups in Ohio outlined their doubts about the Arizona senator in a meeting with McCain's advisers last weekend. They're concerned about his record on abortion rights and on campaign finance laws that they believe limited their ability to criticize candidates who back abortion rights..

“There's certainly a little reservation about Mr. McCain. I think the VP choice is going to be important,” said Chris Long, president of the Ohio Christian Alliance. “If they choose a conservative for the VP, that will help his campaign. It would go a long way of sending a positive message to evangelicals.”

Marlys Popma, McCain's director of evangelical outreach, was one of two aides who met with the forum and reminded them of McCain's record supporting school choice while opposing abortion rights and Internet pornography. She said the campaign understands the interest in the vice presidential nominee, but she noted that McCain “is the one who is going to be nominating judges. He's going to be the one who is signing or not signing bills.”

“John McCain is their guy,” Popma said. “John McCain's record is what will bring individuals to him. I think there are some people out there who do not know John McCain's record.” McCain's aides try to downplay the fissure. They say their internal polling suggests McCain has the support of three-quarters of white evangelicals in swing states, slightly less than Bush had.

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