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Faith offers valuable connection for Southern Dems

By Christina A. Cassidy Associated Press | 7/4/2014, midnight

Nationally, Kentucky and Georgia may represent the Democrats’ best hopes to thwart a Republican plan to take control of the U.S. Senate. Both Grimes and Nunn are considered to be strong recruits who have already proved to be prolific fundraisers. Religion could offer them an important way to expand their base of support and bring in more rural voters.

"For Democrats who are disadvantaged politically in the region, it’s one way for them to at least attempt to neutralize the impact or the advantage that religiosity has for the Republican Party,’’ said Andra Gillespie, an Emory University political science professor. "If you have a Democrat who can make credible claims of faith that might actually help to undermine support for the Republican candidate at least on the issue of, `Does this person share my values?’’’

Regardless of party affiliation, the South has the highest concentration of people who identify themselves as religious. Gallup polling last year found that the most religious states in the country were in the South. Among those, 52 percent in Georgia said they were very religious, while 49 percent in Kentucky reported the same.

A Gallup survey earlier this year found that Southern Democrats are much more likely to say religion is an important part of their daily life _ about 74 percent, compared with 57 percent of Democrats from outside the South.

In Georgia, Carter, a 38-year-old state senator from Atlanta, is in a tough battle to oust Gov. Nathan Deal four years after Republicans claimed every statewide office. Carter must pick up votes in rural Georgia, wooing those who used to vote Democratic in state elections but have moved over to the GOP in the past two decades.

When Carter’s grandfather ran for governor, he featured his faith prominently in campaign literature, describing himself as a lifelong churchman who taught the Bible to children of Navy families while at the U.S Naval Academy. The younger Carter has so far kept discussion about his faith to church visits across the state in recent months.

In an interview, Carter said he doesn’t think about how faith affects his campaign but more about how it affects him personally.

"It’s incredibly important to me personally, it drives who I am and it drives what I do and how I make decisions,’’ Carter said. "People have to be authentic about who they are and where they come from. What people want in our political world is to understand where our leaders come from.’’

Associated Press writer Adam Beam in Clinton, Kentucky, and AP Director of Polling Jennifer Agiesta in Washington contributed to this report.