Wait, what!? You've heard about Iowa's evangelical voters, but what about the ones in New Hampshire?

As the 2016 presidential race — which began sometime during the Paleolithic era — trudges toward actual voting, it's impossible to miss the headlines about candidates courting evangelicals in Iowa:

For a twist, how about a story focusing on religious voters in New Hampshire?

Wait, what!?

I'm always fascinated by coverage of religion in New England. That region boasts the four least religious states in the nation (Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine and Massachusetts), according to Gallup. Connecticut (at No. 8) and Rhode Island (No. 13) don't trail too far behind.

I wrote this sticky lede for The Christian Chronicle in 2013:

SPRINGFIELD, Vt. — Folks in the Green Mountain State like their economy syrupy sweet.
The rural, thickly forested New England state produces 39 percent of the United States’ maple syrup.
The state’s 626,000 residents are less sweet on religion: Vermont ranks as the nation’s most secular state,  according to a 2012 Gallup poll.

So how did evangelicals in New Hampshire — where roughly three out of four residents characterize themselves as nonreligious or only "moderately" religious — gain the attention of Republican operatives?

A front-page story in today's Wall Street Journal explains:

The top of the story:

CONCORD, N. H. — Republicans are trying to inject religion into New Hampshire, making a new push to mobilize churchgoing voters in one of the least religious states in the country.
If it works, the move could provide a boost in the state’s Feb. 9 GOP primary to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who has been courting pastors and evangelical Christians in Iowa and Southern states, while creating a disadvantage for front-runner Donald Trump, who doesn’t do as well among these groups.
But it isn’t clear that the efforts will turn out as hoped in a state with scant history of tying votes to religion.
Four years ago, just 22% of the state’s primary voters described themselves as evangelicals, well below the 57% in Iowa and the lowest rate among swing states. A 2013 Gallup poll ranked New Hampshire as the second least religious state in the country, behind Vermont, based on churchgoing and the importance of religion in daily life.
“Candidates definitely tone things down regarding social issues when they come to the state,” said Stephen Scaer, a 52-year-old special-education teacher who helps run a prayer vigil outside a Planned Parenthood clinic in Manchester, N.H., and favors Republican Carly Fiorina. But, he said, “that’s simply pragmatic. If candidates want to win, they have to.”

Not only does the WSJ offer relevant context on religious participation in New Hampshire, it also highlights past crashes and burns by candidates who tried — unsuccessfully — to target that segment of voters.

But beyond the important statistics provided and experts quoted, the newspaper distinguishes itself — as it often does — by talking to key stakeholders. 

Those stakeholders include church members and pastors:

New England has a “long history of ambivalence about religion,” owing to a complicated past in which faith was sometimes seen as a dividing, rather than uniting, force, said Garrison Nelson, a professor of political science at the University of Vermont. “Any politician who starts thumping his Bible and saying he gets his advice from God will crash in New England,” Mr. Nelson said.
That dynamic has left many religious conservatives convinced their votes don’t count and therefore reluctant to get involved in the political process, said Mark Warren, the lead pastor of Grace Capital Church, which draws 1,200 people to four New Hampshire locations.
Determined to get his congregation to the polls, Mr. Warren has for the first time opened the evangelical Christian church to presidential hopefuls, so far hosting Republicans including Mr. Cruz, Sen. Marco Rubio and Ms. Fiorina. “For too long the church has just shied away from politics,” he said.
Mr. Warren said he is driven to be more vocal because of what he sees as the growing liberalization of American culture, and his belief that Christians aren’t free to express opposition to it. Same-sex marriage and legalization of marijuana are among changes wearing “on the fabric of what has made us successful as a nation,” he said.

The WSJ story is thorough and interesting.

If you can divert your attention from Iowa evangelicals for just a moment, it's worth your time.

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