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The minister who leads Democrats to faith

Leah Daughtry, CEO of her party's upcoming convention, emphasizes 'public holiness.'

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During visits to evangelical colleges and universities, Dr. Campolo has done his own classroom polls of students. (The most recent, just before the end of the primaries: 29 for Obama; 14 for Sen. John McCain, the presumptive GOP nominee; and three for Senator Clinton.) He has seen a split among young Evangelicals: Those in college are tending toward Democrats, he says, while those not in college are sticking with the Republicans.

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Other religious voters also show signs of change. For the first time since the 1930s, more mainline Protestants call themselves Democrats (46 percent) than Republicans (37 percent), according to a Calvin College poll released last month.

The Democratic embrace of faith and values hasn't come without problems.

"There was a very strong and vocal pushback" from some in the party, says Eric Sapp, a consultant who advises candidates on how to connect with religious voters. But some people changed their minds, he adds, when they saw the success in the 2006 election of some statewide candidates who had worked with his former firm, Common Good Strategies. Those candidates averaged 20 percentage points better with white Protestants than the national average.

Daughtry comes from a segment of the party that is not shy about putting faith into action through politics. Her father, the Rev. Herbert Daughtry, was deeply involved in the civil rights movement and he recently returned from a trip to Sudan.

Last month, the House of the Lord Church in Brooklyn celebrated his 50th anniversary as pastor. Leah came home to preach and her sister led the congregation in singing, prayer, and dancing in the aisles. (The two sisters are the fifth generation of family preachers, starting with a slave preacher on the Daughtry plantation.)

Taking her text from the story of Deborah in the Book of Judges, Leah wove a theme of rising out of one's comfort level to accept fresh challenges and new perspectives that God provides. In the call-and-response style of black preaching, worshipers joined in and were all on their feet by the time she concluded.

While her message was directed to others, she could have been talking about her own life. After graduating from Dartmouth College in 1984, Daughtry worked for her church for a year and then took a job with her congressman, Rep. Edolphus "Ed" Towns (D) of New York's 10th District.

"That helped me understand that what happens in Washington is connected to what happens in Brooklyn. The laws they pass on Capitol Hill have an impact on the dry cleaner on Myrtle Avenue or the pharmacy on Fulton Street," she says.

She moved on to the Department of Labor, where her management skills led eventually to her appointment as assistant secretary for administration and management in the Clinton administration. After work hours, she held Bible study sessions for interested colleagues. That's when she felt the call to ordained ministry. Her Bible-study group grew to become a church.

While carrying out her CEO responsibilities this year in Denver, Daughtry flies back to Washington to preach about twice a month. Now she's counting the days until the job is done. "I can't wait to get back and teach Bible study again," she says. "That's what I miss most."