In N.H., Candidates' Faith Trumps Denomination; Churchgoer Insists 'You Don't Really Mix Religion with Politics'

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Byline: Andrea Billups, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

LONDONDERRY, N.H. - The Rev. Wesley Palmer of the Londonderry United Methodist Church posed an unusual - but timely - question to his parishioners during the 11 a.m. service yesterday.

"Are there any presidential candidates with us today?"

He was half-kidding, but with the New Hampshire presidential primary looming, it's not out of the realm of possibilities that a candidate - or at least someone connected to tomorrow's event - could be visiting the historic white clapboard church, given the onslaught of pundits, supporters and journalists who have arrived here en masse.

As the nation's political eyes are focused on the Granite State, candidates here face a different landscape than the open arms of Iowa. Faith, New England-style, is in full view, with churches as ubiquitous as convenience stores across the small, bucolic towns.

Unlike the caucuses of Iowa, where Republican candidates, at least, garnered major support from evangelical voters, New Englanders see it differently when it comes to selecting a president.

"In this area, you don't really mix religion with politics," said Pavel Payano, 22, a Lawrence, Mass. resident, who has come to New Hampshire to campaign for Democratic candidate Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois. He stood in the shadows of the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd, leading a group of about a dozen supporters in chanting to motorists along Nashua's Main Street.

"I'm a very religious person," said Mr. Payano, a native of the Dominican Republic. "When I was first looking at Obama as a candidate, I wanted to know if he stood for the basic principles of my religion, not if he was the same faith."

Mr. Payano and others lined the main drag through town. It's a busy downtown, with independent shops and church steeples poking through the gray wintry skies.

Every month, parishioners at Nashua's Main Street United Methodist Church invite locals in for a Saturday night bean supper. They don't call it dinner, and you don't have to be a member to eat. It's a heavily attended social affair, but inside, they are not immune from the political crush that's right outside their doorstep.

Church member Phyllis Appler, 60, led diners to tables.

"I think that people want someone who cares about his or her religious beliefs," said Mrs. …