The latest poll by the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute has Barack Obama leading by 12 points in Pennsylvania, the state where his one-time rival, Hillary Clinton, pretty much handed him his hat in the Democratic primary two months ago. Of course, there will be polls and polls in all the swing states in the 20 weeks leading to Election Day and no one is predicting that John McCain will slight a state that John Kerry barely won in ’04. Indeed, the McCain campaign opened a “victory headquarters” in the state capitol Harrisburg today.

Still, the number must give some in the Obama camp a sense of satisfaction, not least because so many pundits have described the Keystone State as home to two major groups–Roman Catholics and blue-collar voters–that they predict Obama will have to struggle mightily to win. With nearly a third of its citizens Catholic, Pennsylvania has one of the highest proportions of members of the church to its overall population of any state.

Mention of which allows God-o-Meter to segue (perhaps a bit inelegantly) into the news this week that a rather high-profile Catholic and Republican, Douglas W. Kmiec, is sticking with Obama, despite Kmiec’s outspoken anti-abortion stand and the extraordinary rebuke he recently received from a priest at Mass. Kmiec, who teaches constitutional law at Pepperdine University and formerly served as U.S. assistant attorney general to President Ronald Reagan, drew considerable attention earlier this month after it was revealed that a priest denied him communion at a Mass for business people whom Kmiec was to address.

The incident raised the question of whether priests might withhold the Eucharist from lay people who support candidates favoring abortion rights, as Obama does. The Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne wrote a piece on the issue.

In an op-ed  published this week in The Chicago Tribune, Kmiec said he recently joined about 30 religious leaders in a private discussion of social issues with Obama. A lot of the talk center on abortion, on which Obama and Kmiec do not agree, “and I told him so,” Kmiec wrote. But he added that Obama “shares a common aspiration to reduce the incidence of abortion” and that the meeting offered evidence of Obama’s “appreciation for both the significance of faith and faith differences and an open mind sensitive to the need to protect religious freedom.”

To be sure, we’re talking here about a couple of incidents involving a prominent lawyer and a candidate not of his party. But it suggests just how complex and unpredictable this election may become, in terms of the issues, personalities and hopes involved.



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