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In final push, Kerry tries to close a perceived 'God gap'

Democrats hope to draw swing voters from ranks of religious 'moderates,' eyeing fault lines within churches.

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Nearing the end of the most religion-infused election campaign since 1960, Sen. John Kerry is making a bid to close the perceived "God gap" between the two political parties.

To convince undecided voters - particularly religious moderates in swing states - that he stands for their deepest concerns, the Democratic candidate is speaking more frequently in the language of faith. Framing the issues in moral terms and showing how religious values undergird his policy choices, Senator Kerry hopes to broaden the values debate and to show that he is as much a man of faith as is President Bush.

But the Democrats are playing catchup on the religion front, and the question is whether this effort, including the speech Kerry gave Sunday devoted to religious ideals and values, will give voters a more satisfying glimpse of the candidate, or be "too little, too late."

Surveys have shown not only that most Americans want a man of faith as president, but that they see the Republican party as more "religion-friendly."

But if the Democrats are seen as the more secular party, studies show that a realignment is going on among religious Americans. Groups such as Catholics, Protestants, and Evangelicals all include people who range from traditionalists to centrists to "modernists" in terms of faith.

The latest evidence is the split among Roman Catholics over the challenge to Kerry by some bishops and conservatives based on his support of abortion rights. Other Catholics have come to his defense.

"A fault line runs through the denominations ... with moral absolutists on the one hand versus those who see shades of gray on the other," according to Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention. "Religion's role is increasing and will only continue to increase."

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