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Voting has begun in the New Hampshire primary, and I expect that Mitt Romney will continue to do well — especially since New Hampshire voters care a lot less about religious bonafides (aka Jesus talk) than their counterparts in Iowa and South Carolina.

As for last week’s Iowa caucus results, here’s an excerpt from my analysis at the USC Knight Chair in Media & Religion’s Trans/Missions blog:

Santorum’s surge to second place is credited to Iowa’s evangelical voters, who agree with the former Pennsylvania senator’s faith-based convictions against same-sex marriage, gay adoption and abortion in all cases, even rape and incest. But it remains to be seen how Santorum, Gingrich and Perry will do in states like New Hampshire and Florida, where primary voters tend to be less swayed by religious bonafides – that is, where it matters less whether a candidate is a Christian conservative or conservative Christian.

What’s the difference? It boils down to which c-word is the noun, the main object, and which is the adjective, or a mere descriptor. By all accounts, Santorum now claims the conservative Christian mantle, referring to himself as the campaign’s “Jesus guy” and proffering controversial statements about homosexuality that would seem more natural behind a pulpit than on the hustings. In contrast, Romney campaigns as a Christian conservative, although this strategy may simply reflect his having to play down his religious beliefs to avoid alienating voters who are wary of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

As for the rest? Ron Paul and Jon Huntsman: Christian conservatives. Rick Perry: conservative Christian. Newt Gingrich: a Christian conservative trying to reinvent himself as a conservative Christian, aided by his conversion to Catholicism and devoted third wife Callista. But these lines may blur depending on the time and place, and conservative Christian groups like Focus on the Family are struggling to decide whether electability (i.e., a candidate’s ability to oust President Obama) is ultimately more important than religious purity.

And once again, as every four years, I’m left wondering there’s any evidence in what progressive evangelicals keep arguing: that conservative Christians also care about where politicians stand on the environment, poverty, etc. I just don’t think it matters, if at the end of the day they only vote for the candidate they agree with on abortion and homosexuality. But perhaps I’m wrong, or the times are a’changing…?

What do you think? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below.

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Thanks to everyone who made it out last week to the Religion Newswriters Association & Religion Communicators Council networking event at The Huffington Post. Looking forward to more RNA/RCC gatherings; it’s a great way to talk faith-related news and get new ideas and sources.

Check out RNA’s list of the top religion news stories of 2011, as ranked by dozens of religion journalists around the country. Osama bin Laden’s death — remember that? — leads the pack. RNA also usually names a Religion Newsmaker of the Year, but this year was too close to call, between failed doomsday evangelist Harold Camping, Pope Benedict XVI and Texas Gov. Rick Perry. (I voted for Camping.)

I’ve got lots of traveling and shopping to do, so I’m going to sign off for the year, barring major breaking news. Hope everyone has a happy holiday season!

I can’t find the 1980s Christmas episode of Saturday Night Live I remember so fondly, in which The Church Lady rearranges the letters in Santa to spell Satan. But here’s the transcript! And here’s a link to a funny sketch they had over the weekend, in which Jesus takes a break before his big birthday to ask Denver Broncos quarterback and devout evangelical Christian Tim Tebow to take it down a notch.

And, as has become my tradition, here’s the “12 Days of Christmas,” as interpreted by the Indian diaspora.

What do you think? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below.

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Prolific writer and ascerbic atheist Christopher Hitchens died yesterday, more than a year into his public battle with esophageal cancer. Kicking, screaming and ‘blaspheming’ until the end, surrounded by friends and prayed for (despite his indifference) by supporters? It’s a comforting thought, in its own way.

Some religion news links — and please share your own recommendations in the Comments section below.

What do you think? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below.

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Six GOP presidential hopefuls schlepped for votes Wednesday at a candidates forum hosted by the Republican Jewish Coalition (insert your own SNL Coffee Talk joke here).

Background notes: Jews make up less than 2 percent of the U.S. population and vote overwhelmingly Democrat. But Republicans see opportunities to make inroads by appealing to socially conservative Orthodox Jewish voters and pledging stronger military support to Israel, which could lead to more campaign contributions and Florida swing-state votes.

As a native New Yorker, I can’t help but giggle watching six Christians compete over who is a better friend to the Jews. It’s my middle school’s bar mitzvah season all over again! Which of these goys will get the most chances to play Coke and Pepsi and make a memory candle: Michele Bachmann (evangelical), Newt Gingrich (Catholic), Jon Huntsman (Mormon), Rick Perry (evangelical), Mitt Romney (Mormon) or Rick Santorum (Catholic)?

On The Daily Show, Jon Stewart also had some fun with The Matzorian Candidate:

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
The Matzorian Candidate
www.thedailyshow.com
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P.S. You would think that Bachmann would have picked up some better “ch” sounds after working on a kibbutz; too bad she didn’t spend some time on the Upper West Side!

What do you think? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below.

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