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The Palin factor in the 'culture wars'

She may revive the wars, but the country and the candidates have moderated since the 2004 race.

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In the pre-Palin days of this election campaign, divisive social issues such as abortion were taking a back seat. Barack Obama and John McCain were driving other issues, and so were most voters. That dynamic could now change.

Preconvention polls consistently showed the economy as Americans' No. 1 concern. Voters in an August survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, for instance, ranked energy as No. 2, with healthcare and education tied for third place. Generically, "moral values" were important to 61 percent of voters (in seventh place after Iraq and terrorism). But when it came to the specifics of abortion and gay marriage, interest dropped way off.

Will the personal views of John McCain's running mate – on abortion, same-sex marriage, and creationism – revive America's culture clash?

Christian conservatives expect much from her. And hot-button ballot questions, particularly in two swing states, could significantly influence the electoral calculus in a surprisingly tight presidential race. (For instance, Coloradans will decide whether a fertilized human egg is a "person," effectively banning abortion; Florida will choose whether to amend its constitution to recognize only marriage between a man and a woman as a legal union.)

It's not clear whether Palin will bring out "values voters" as in 2004, when they gave the edge to President Bush. But America 2008 is not the same place as four years ago. Stung by '04, Democrats are looking for areas of shared values. Listen to Mr. Obama at his acceptance speech in Denver last month:

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