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House Democrats to Draw Up ‘Faith Agenda’

Acknowledging a divide between the Democratic Party and religious voters during the 2004 election, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) is developing a “faith agenda” to try to reconnect with the millions of Americans who feel the minority party is one of nonbelievers.

Pelosi, a dedicated Catholic, has tapped Caucus Vice Chairman Rep. James Clyburn (S.C.) to spearhead an internal party effort to recapture faith-based voters. Clyburn will convene a working group of 15 to 25 House Democrats to review party policies and ideas and to look at new ways to frame those issues in faith-based terms.

“House Democrats are people of deep faith and share the values of faith communities,” Pelosi said. “Congressman Clyburn and the Faith Working Group are working to strengthen our ties with the faith community and to find areas where we can work together.”

The Minority Leader has been working on the faith agenda for about two years, soliciting the advice of religious leaders and top Democratic strategists and consultants including former White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry, with whom she met last week. Now the leader wants to put “legs” on her ideas and discussions, leadership sources said.

“Leader Pelosi has been talking about how the Democrats can better communicate with people about faith,” said spokeswoman Jennifer Crider. “As we move forward, our intention is to build a faith agenda with the faith community. We want to talk with the public about what we are doing and they will see there are some very natural fits here.”

Crider noted that on nearly every Democratic position — from Social Security to education to the budget — the party’s agenda mirrors the values “the faith community lives by.”

House Democrats are launching the initiative following a 2004 election that gave Republicans and President Bush overwhelming support from religious and evangelical voters. The GOP targeted some conservative House Democrats this cycle for their votes on gay marriage and abortion — issues seen as key issues for many faith-minded voters.

Democrats say they are frustrated because they are religious individuals too, and feel strongly that the party’s policies often reflect those faith-based ideals. Yet they privately worry, based on the 2004 election, that Republicans have effectively convinced a large sector of voters that the GOP is the party of the religious, not the Democrats.

Clyburn said Democrats “may not wear their religion on their sleeves” but are no less devout in their beliefs than the GOP. He said that virtually every Democratic policy reflects strong moral and religious values, adding that the party has not done a good enough job making that clear to voters.

“I knew that we had a problem two or three days after the election when I started looking at the exit polling,” Clyburn said. “I saw that our Catholic nominee for president lost the Catholic vote.”

“Our problem is not our programs,” Clyburn added. “It’s been our expressions and interpretations of those programs. We are people of faith.”

Clyburn said the goal is to get Democratic candidates and Members comfortable talking about policies in faith-based terms. Many Democrats, he said, only address faith and religion when their beliefs are called into question, most notably on the campaign trail.

He said Democrats won’t suddenly start to quote the Bible and the Ten Commandments when advocating policies. Rather, he said, the leadership is going to spend the coming months looking for new ways to talk about the issues in subtle terms with which religious individuals can relate.

“What we’re trying to do is get people comfortable with the language, because our proposals are in line with what these people would have them be,” Clyburn said. “The problem is our rhetoric is not in line with what people would like to hear.”

In the coming weeks, Pelosi plans to name the other lawmakers who will join Clyburn on the Faith Working Group.

Those Members will examine current Democratic policies, advise Members about how to talk about issues in the language of values, come up with ways to get the message out and work on mobilizing faith-minded voters. The group will also work with the Minority Leader’s office to come up with a list of faith-based venues for candidates and Members to speak about Democratic issues.

In broader terms, Democrats hope to reach out to religious voters who are liberal to moderate, and who vote on a variety of issues. Republicans, they say, have effectively solidified the one-issue voters, but they believe they can persuade many of the remaining religious electorate.

“We have to go on the offense on these issues and using this kind of language and referring to is will get them to take a look at our positions,” Clyburn said.

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