Do pews prefer Obama or the Clintons?

clinton obama 0107The big, hot, all-consuming story these days inside the Beltway is the war of words between Barack Obama and Bill and-or Hillary Clinton. Things are getting really rough out there and, frankly, this is to be expected when one of the candidates -- that would be Clinton -- has such a high negative rating with the public. Close races cause heat. This leads me to what may seem like a totally different story.

Here in GetReligion land, we have been noting that mainstream reporters have been asking the Republicans all kinds of God-language questions, while the Democrats have been using just as much, if not more, faith language and no one is asking picky questions about it. And, to make matters worse, the pollsters are not exploring the impact of religion on the voting patterns on that side of the aisle. So we know all about Mike Huckabee's evangelical army, but nothing about how pew factors are affecting the Obama-Clinton showdown.

Which leads me to a haunted piece the other day in the Baltimore Sun, focusing on the life-and-death showdown in South Carolina. The headline was simple: "Obama, Clinton divide blacks -- Many are split over race, gender views."

OK, that's rather obvious. Reporter Paul West noted:

With Democrats on track to select either the party's first female or black presidential nominee, polls have suggested that black women such as Ezekiel are torn by conflicting loyalties to race and gender. In interviews, some black voters have said that they were supporting the New York senator because they did not believe that Obama could get elected amid lingering racism in America.

But as the Democratic contest narrows to a two-person race, and Obama showed that he could win white votes in Iowa and New Hampshire, voters are swinging behind him in impressive numbers.

"I understand that many of you are still a little skeptical," Obama, an Illinois senator, told a Martin Luther King Jr. banquet in Las Vegas last week. "But not as skeptical as you were before Iowa. Sometimes it takes other folks before we believe ourselves."

And so forth and so on. But here is the key to the question that I want to ask:

As Obama's candidacy has taken off, Clinton's support among black voters has plummeted. A national poll last week by Opinion Research Corp. for CNN showed her trailing Obama by a 2-to-1 margin among blacks nationally. ...

Jimmy Thompson, 53, a state government worker from West Columbia, said he had been leaning toward Clinton at one point but is now solidly for Obama.

"It's really about who he is and his values, and the change that he is talking about," he said after early Sunday services at Brookland Baptist Church, one of the state's largest black congregations.

You know what I want to know, right?

This whole drama down in the Bible Belt seems to be unfolding in church pulpits and pews. We also live in the age of the "pew gap," in which the strongest indicator of how a person will vote is how often she or he goes to church (and what stance the voter takes on key social issues).

So what role is religion playing in this division in the black vote between Obama and the Clintons? I am finding it hard to believe that religion is totally absent from this showdown. But someone needs to ask some questions -- in polls and in news stories.

I sense a ghost in this. I really do.

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