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Should Democrats Get Religion?

The Democratic Party's sharp defeat in the 2004 election has already produced a round of soul searching.

The GOP recaptured the White House and strengthened its hold on Congress with powerful support from churchgoers.

Now some in the party are saying that the Democrats need to reach out to these voters with a faith-based appeal.

"I don't hesitate to stand up in a crowd and express how important faith is in my life. It is important to be able to express that in a way that is believable, and Democrats have to get comfortable doing that," Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., told the Washington Post.

Other Democratic politicians and officials echoed her view.

Congressman Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., a former presidential candidate, told the New York Times that Democrats had failed "to speak to our faith, and to relate to people that we share their faith."

President Bush's faith-based appeal resonated in the South and rural and small town communities across the nation. And his opposition to gay marriage positioned him to take advantage of widespread voter opposition to same-sex unions.

According to CBS News exit polls, only 26 percent of all voters supported the idea of legalized gay and lesbian marriages, while 36 percent opposed any legal recognition of gay and lesbian relationships. Among this latter group, Mr. Bush held a greater than 2-to-1 advantage over Democrat John Kerry.

No section of the nation received Mr. Bush's values-laden message more enthusiastically than the Old Confederacy. The election virtually completed the ongoing transformation of the South from a Democratic bastion to a GOP stronghold. Five Southern Senate seats previously held by Democrats fell to the Republicans.

The Republican South has created some formidable election math for the Democrats. With the South in the pocket of the 2008 Republican presidential candidate, the 2008 Democratic nominee will need about 70 percent of electoral votes available in the rest of the country to win the White House.

Some observers believe GOP triumphs in the South have created the conditions under which the Republicans can remain as the nation's majority party for many years.

"The only reason the Democrats dominated [Congress] for as many decades as they did is their advantage came from the South," GOP pollster Whit Ayres told the Los Angeles Times. "When the South essentially left the Democratic coalition, that's when we had the national shift [in Congress] to the Republicans."

So the Democratic Party now turns to an internal debate about its future direction.

"We Democrats better think long and hard about what happened ... and how our party is going to connect with the hopes and aspirations of the people," Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., after watching Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., an 18-year Senate veteran, go down in defeat. "We have lost the ability to connect with people's value systems and we're going to have to work to get that back."

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