A self-described anti-abortion, Bible church-attending feminist, Sarah Palin connects culturally to white evangelical Republicans who weren't sold on John McCain. Plus, she could resonate with some carpool-driving, daytime-working, homework-helping mothers who support a woman's right to an abortion, but who aren't ideological.
What's unknown is how she will play among swing groups of religion-minded voters, particularly Democratic-leaning Catholics and Latino Protestants. Given her faith, Palin has a chance to help win some of these up-for-grabs voters. It depends upon the issues she chooses and her tone.
During the GOP primaries, Mike Huckabee, a Southern Baptist minister, married his cultural conservatism to a compassionate message about economic fairness. Tone matters if the McCain campaign hopes to sway Catholics who preferred Hillary Clinton but who could vote Republican now. They oppose abortion, but they also worry about issues like economic fairness.
There's a storied tradition of such voters, including Catholic Democrats who once backed Ronald Reagan. Yes, they believe abortion represents the taking of a life, but they also believe their faith commands them to work with the poor and to challenge a system they see as stacked against workers of the world.
They helped elect Robert Casey, an anti-abortion Democratic senator from Pennsylvania. Barack Obama smartly selected Joe Biden, a Pennsylvania-born Catholic and longtime Delaware senator, to help win their votes.
What's interesting is that Palin, despite being a Republican from Alaska, could have an opening with them, too, as some of these Democratic leaners share her social conservatism.
The question is whether she can show enough compassion for their economic uncertainties. Matthew Wilson, a Southern Methodist University political science professor who studies Catholic voting patterns, believes Palin could make a powerful connection if she steers toward economic fairness.
As to Latino Protestants, McCain has been slower than George W. Bush to mobilize them, even though many are culturally conservative. How will Palin relate to them? Her experience in Alaska and its suburbs is as far from the Latino experience as one can get. Yet she also shares their cultural conservatism. And having once attended a Pentecostal church, she knows how to speak the language.
For many of us, it's chilling to hear her talk about an Alaska pipeline being part of God's will. But Pentecostals possess the evangelical sense of confidence about being on a mission from God. They just amp it up, as Darrell Bock of the evangelical Dallas Theological Seminary says.
With Latino Protestants, Palin also needs to speak genuinely about economic fairness. Hispanic pastors I've interviewed describe this as a big issue for their flocks.
What we do know is that Palin's religious journey mirrors that of many Americans. Baptized a Catholic, she joined an Assemblies of God church and then went to an evangelical Bible church. A Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life survey this summer shows we increasingly are a blend of different religious traditions.
What we don't know is whether Sarah Palin has the ability to take her religious views and speak to more than religious conservatives.