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In Hoosier State, Age And Religion Play A Role

This story was written by Chris Herring, Michigan Daily

SOUTH BEND, Ind. - Though Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama have been in a tight, back-and-forth battle in their race for the Democratic presidential nomination, not every voting bloc has been evenly split when making a decision between the candidates.

Analysts have noted that Clinton is the overwhelming favorite among Catholics, and that Obama dominates the New York senator among college students. But what happens when those two constituencies mix and Catholic college students go to the polls?

In most cases, experts say, they vote for Obama.

The University of Notre Dame, arguably the nation's most notable Catholic school, might best exemplify the claim.

Following Clinton's blowout victory among Catholics in Pennsylvania - polls show that 72 percent of them voted for her - some Notre Dame students backing Obama took it upon themselves to start Catholics for Obama, an organization specifically created to dispel myths that the Illinois senator lacks support among Catholics, who make up 25 percent of the nation's population.

"He hasn't done so well in some states with the Catholic vote," Notre Dame senior Mike Laskey said of Obama. The Illinois senator lost the Catholic vote even in his home state.

"We want to get people talking and to really look at how he resonates with Catholic voters, because his vision of unity is something that, I think, should appeal to Catholics," Laskey said.

But Louis Ayala, a political science professor at Notre Dame, said Obama would be no more attractive a candidate than Clinton if a Catholic voter based his vote strictly on the candidates' stances. Both are pro-choice on the abortion issue and promote government-heavy health-care plans.

"Are voters really seeing that much of a policy difference between them, or is it that the Catholic vote is going toward Clinton as a result of something else like age?" he asked rhetorically. "I don't see that much of a difference in their policies."

Others said age was the overriding factor in voters' minds.

"I suspect that they would vote their age rather than their religious affiliation," said Robert Jones, chair of the political science department at Belmont Abbey College, a Roman Catholic school in North Carolina. "I would guess that they would vote for Obama," he said, adding that his conclusions weren't based off any scientific research.

Andrea Laidman, a Notre Dame senior and member of Catholics for Obama, said members of "the aging Catholic church" would back Clinton, as they would be more familiar with her than Obama. Laidman said that, and the fact that senior citizens vote at higher rates than other age groups, explain why Clinton does so much better among the constituency.

Amanda Morris, president of the Purdue chapter of Students for Hillary, said she thought age was a bigger factor for voters than religion.

"I don't think it has as much to do with religion at all," said Morris, who is not Catholic.

Despite her view that faith takes a backseat to age when one votes, Morris did bring up Obama's former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Jr., saying that his presence in Obama's campaign has caused some to indirectly take religion into account when voting.

Laidman agreed, saying Wright would force religious voters to reconsider their support for Obama.

"I'm sure any American religious community would find it troubling," Laidman, said of a now-infamous video clip in which Wright makes an anti-American statement. "But I think Obama in the past few days has now spoken out about it in a way that will finally make people feel more comfortable."

Despiteher support for Obama, Laidman acknowledged that very little was different between the candidates in terms of their moral stances.

"The interesting thing about the breakdown is that we're not even talking about something like 70 percent for McCain and 30 percent for Obama; we're talking about Clinton and Obama," she said. "In terms of the issues for Catholics, they're not that different at all."

The limited difference between them, Ayala said, is precisely why it's unclear why the Catholic vote breaks down the way it does.

"I honestly think it depends on the individual," Ayala said.