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Obama and Romney fight for religious groups’ votes. Then there’s Romney’s Mormon faith

Separation of church and state may be a constitutional requirement in US government. But in Election 2012, religion has become an increasingly important factor. President Obama and Mitt Romney are focusing on particular religious groups.

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The Religion News Service reported this past week that “President Barack Obama's support among Catholic voters has surged since June … despite a summer that included the Catholic bishops' religious freedom campaign and the naming of Rep. Paul Ryan, a Catholic, as the GOP's vice-presidential candidate.”

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“On June 17, Obama held a slight edge over Mitt Romney among Catholics (49 percent to 47 percent), according to the Pew Research Center,” the news service reported. “Since then, Obama has surged ahead, and now leads 54 percent to 39 percent, according to a Pew poll conducted Sept. 16.”

Among Jewish voters in 2008, Obama won an overwhelming 78 percent, according to exit polls. This year, the GOP is trying hard to win a larger percentage of such voters.

Reports The New York Times: “Focused on South Florida, Ohio, and Nevada, the Republican Jewish Coalition, backed mostly by the casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, a Zionist, has begun spending $6.5 million on an air-and-ground strategy to reach Jewish voters who may view Mr. Obama as unreliable on the question of Israel’s security.”

In recent weeks (and especially in light of the perceived threat from Iran’s nuclear progam), Romney himself has played up his close relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Meanwhile, evangelical Christians – a substantial minority of whom had previously indicated they might not be able to vote for a Mormon – apparently began gravitating toward Romney once it became clear he would be the Republican nominee.

“There are at least two explanations for why Romney’s Mormonism matters so little among this powerful voting bloc,” writes Jonathan Merritt on the blog site for Sojourners, the progressive religious and social action organization. “First, evangelicals seem to care more about political ideology than orthodox theology as far as voting is concerned. Polls show that voters care most about the economy, not faith. It’s why the Tea Party – most of them being self-described evangelicals – have gravitated toward another Mormon, Glenn Beck.”

“Second, any discomfort about Mormonism is outweighed by an even larger disdain for President Obama,” Mr. Merritt writes. “Many evangelicals bemoan the last four years of his administration’s policies and they fear what he’ll do if re-elected.”

As religion scholar John-Charles Duffy of Miami University in Ohio put it in the Religion & Politics online news journal, “Evangelicals may not think Romney’s a Christian, but at least he’s not Obama.”

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