Efforts by Democratic candidates to display their faith and connect with religious voters helped produce huge electoral wins in Pennsylvania and Ohio, according to analysts and independent pollsters.
While the national voting patterns of religious Americans were not significantly different from the last midterm elections, Democrats turned the tide among white evangelicals and Catholics in both states, according to John Green, a senior fellow at the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.
Bob Casey, the Pennsylvania Democrat who trounced Republican senator Rick Santorum, was supported by 58 percent of Catholic voters. "That's a pretty dramatic change" from previous elections, Green said.
In both states, Democrats fielded candidates who could challenge the Republican dominance on moral values. Ted Strickland, an ordained Methodist minister elected governor in Ohio, and Casey, an antiabortion Catholic, are not typical Democrats. But in winning by large margins, they possibly laid out a new path to victory for their party.
Across the rest of the country--in ballot initiatives and local races--there were other big winners and losers:
Who Wins: Religious Progressives
With an intensive outreach to religious voters, Democrat Ted Strickland made huge gains among Catholics and evangelicals and trounced an outspoken religious conservative in his race for governor.
Strickland, an ordained Methodist minister, was able to draw voters away from his Republican opponent, Ken Blackwell, by emphasizing "lunch bucket" moral issues like poverty and the environment, said Mara Vanderslice, a Strickland campaign adviser. "We changed the conversation about moral values," Vanderslice said. "It was impossible for it to be only about abortion and gay marriage."
The challenge for Democrats, observers say, is to keep that momentum and repeat this winning strategy in the 2008 elections and beyond.
Who Wins: Religious Progressives
Religious progressives who hope to make the fight against poverty a galvanizing get-to-the-polls issue were encouraged by the voting, in which measures to raise the minimum wage passed in each of the six states where they were on the ballot.
"We succeeded in making this issue the 'values' issue of the 2006 election," said Paul Sherry, a minister who is national director of the Let Justice Roll Living Wage Campaign.
Thanks to barnstorming efforts by prominent preachers and local organizations, religious progressives succeeded in raising the minimum-wage and helped prove that poverty is the kind of issue that can draw voters from across theological and political lines, Sherry said.
In the 2008 elections and beyond, antipoverty and minimum wage measures could "bring out voters who care about jobs and values just as the gay marriage initiatives brought out conservative Christians," said Jim Wallis, a progressive author and activist.
ABORTION AND STEM CELL RESEARCH
Who Loses: Religious Conservatives
Two ballot measures--abortion in South Dakota and stem cell research in Missouri--drew the attention, and the dollars, of religious conservatives from across the U.S. They lost both battles.
South Dakota voters rejected a sweeping ban on abortion that would have outlawed the procedure unless it is necessary to save a mother's life. Had the measure passed, it could have sparked similar legislation in other states, said Carlton Veazey, president of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. Daniel McConchie, vice president of Americans United for Life, said conservatives will continue to try to chip away at legalized abortion through parental notification and informed-consent laws.
In Missouri, voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment that allows patients and researchers access to any method of stem cell research, therapy or cure permitted under federal law. …