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Southern Democrats are out to prove that religion isn't just for Republicans

Published: Friday, July 4 2014 6:30 a.m. MDT

Updated: Monday, July 28 2014 10:51 a.m. MDT

In this Nov. 11, 2013, file photo, Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., attends a Veterans Day observance in Little Rock, Ark.

Danny Johnston, Associated Press

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Conservative politics in the South are often linked to religious practice. However, the image of the faithful politician may soon expand to include Southern Democrats, whose advertisements and interviews are inspiring the change.

"Religion offers a powerful connection with many in the South, considered the most religious part of the country. Some Democrats … are finding their faith can be a valuable way to reach voters," the Associated Press reported.

AP's coverage of Southern Democrats and religion, which included an article and a video, featured interviews with U.S. Senate candidates Michelle Nunn of Georgia, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Alison Lundergan Grimes of Kentucky and Georgia gubernatorial candiate Jason Carter, a state senator who is former President Jimmy Carter's grandson.

Although each politician addresses faith differently, all represent a Democratic Party that is eager to reclaim religious voters in the South. "Nationally, Kentucky and Georgia may represent the Democrats' best hopes to thwart a Republican plan to take control of the U.S. Senate," AP reported.

Nunn addressed her Methodist upbringing in a video about her grandmother. "We live our faith by helping others," Nunn explained.

"The Bible teaches us no one has all the answers: only God does. And neither political party is always right," Pryor, who is running for re-election, said in a TV ad.

Pryor's faith was targeted by his opponent, Rep. Tom Cotton, in a radio interview, The Huffington Post reported. Cotton criticized the senator's response to this week's Supreme Court decision in favor of Hobby Lobby.

"I'm disappointed in Congressman Cotton's deeply personal attack on me. He and I may disagree on issues, but for him to question my faith is out of bounds," Pryor said in a statement.

According to a recent Buzzfeed article, Southern Republicans are also talking about religion in new ways. McKay Coppins' profile of Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal addresses the party's changing relationship with the religious right, a conservative Christian movement with strong ties to the American South.

"While much of the Republican Party has written off the … movement as a shrinking niche to be appeased but not feared, Jindal is working deliberately to consolidate their support and position himself as the election-year champion of values voters," Coppins wrote. "(Jindal) believes conservatives should actively recast the culture wars as a fight for the freedom to live according to one's faith — not as a crusade to force a strict moral code on America."

Georgetown University's Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs has created a resource for people interested in the intersection of religion and politics. The Web page "assembles key statements by U.S. presidents over time and provides an overview of three key themes: values issues (such as abortion), foreign policy and Islam. It also includes position statements about religion from the platforms of the Democratic Party and Republican Party."

"Faith has always been a central part of the American story," stated the 2012 Democratic Platform. "We know that our nation, our communities, and our lives are made vastly stronger and richer by faith and the countless acts of justice and mercy it inspires."

Email: kdallas@deseretnews.com Twitter: @kelsey_dallas

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