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Candidate Clinton goes public with her private faith

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In South Carolina, which holds the crucial first Southern primary, her faith and values outreach program – called "For Such a Time as This," after a verse from the Book of Esther – is virtually synonymous with her overall campaign there. And in a state where half the Democratic primary electorate is African-American, reaching out to the black churches is a given. Late last month, she scored a coup in her competition with Senator Obama for black and religious voters, when 60 African-American ministers appeared on stage with her in Spartanburg, S.C., with another 20 in the audience.

"The senator's faith is something that's very personal and dear to her, but it's reflected in all things she does and all aspects of life, so it's a natural part of the campaign," says Zac Wright, spokesman for Clinton's South Carolina campaign.

It's also a highly organized part of the campaign. Right after the 2004 elections, Clinton telegraphed her robust effort to reach values voters as a presidential candidate. Speaking at Tufts University outside Boston, she called it "a mistake for the Democrats not to engage evangelical Christians on their own turf – essentially ceding the vote to President Bush." A year ago, Clinton hired Burns Strider, an evangelical Christian from Mississippi who ran faith outreach for the House Democratic Caucus, to organize her faith outreach.

In the broader national campaign, God talk does not infuse her every political activity. On issues, she may weigh in on what she sees as a "moral crisis" – as she has referred to the millions of children lacking health insurance – but rarely does she overtly invoke her Methodist faith or the Bible in pushing a political point. An exception is her discussion of immigration reform, in which she has declared that tough anti-illegal-immigrant legislation would "criminalize the good Samaritan ... and even Jesus himself."

To some Christian conservatives, Clinton's religious talk is yet another reason to look askance at her. After The New York Times published an interview with Clinton last July about her faith, conservative columnist Cal Thomas wrote: "This is a politician speaking, not a person who believes in the central tenets of Christianity."

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