Open talk about their personal faith by leading presidential hopefuls isprompted by their awareness of the crucial part Christians will play in theupcoming election, according to a survey that reveals some surprising truthsabout believers and the ballot box.Though "born-again" voters would send George W. Bush to the White House in a51 percent to 31 percent margin over Al Gore if the election were heldtoday, they do not fit the profile typically sketched of Christians by themainstream media as overwhelmingly Republican.The "Faith Factor" study by the California-based Barna Research Group (BRG)reports that "born-again" adults who are registered are split evenly betweenthe Republican and Democratic parties--35 percent each. But they are morelikely to be registered to vote than non-Christians, making them a keyconstituency.The Barna researchers found that without the vote of those consideringthemselves "born again," Bush would probably fall short of the numbersneeded to win the election. He draws 55 percent of his support from thegroup, while Gore finds only 37 percent of them backing him.But Bush's greater support was "lukewarm and susceptible to change," saidBRG president George Barna. "The candidates are well aware of the high levelof interest in spiritual matters and personal faith...Currently theborn-again group looks like it might cast about 45 percent of the votes.That's a market share that no candidate can afford to ignore or lose," hesaid.The survey of 1,002 adults found that around 57 million of the country's 80million "born- again" adults were registered to vote--making them one of thelargest proportions among all demographic groups. Almost a fifth of thoseregistered--12 million--were evangelicals. One-in-8 born-again voters wasCatholic, and the number of "born-again" voters was double the total numberof black and Hispanic voters combined."The portrait often painted by the media of born-again Christians isinaccurate," Barna said. "That group is not overwhelmingly conservative orRepublican, or unified in its views...The born- again segment is moredemographically diverse than many realize...There are millions of born-againadults who have yet to make up their minds about whom to vote for, and manywho will switch from their current choice to an alternative before electionday rolls round."Voters who are not born again would prefer Gore for president, according tothe BRG study, by a 43 percent to 34 percent margin. Limited to registeredvoters only, Gore's lead among those who are not born again remains aboutthe same, at 44 percent to 36 percent, while Bush's lead in the born-againgroup stretches to 56 percent over 30 percent.The survey also pointed to John McCain's surging candidacy as "a substantialchallenge" to Bush. Among Republican born-again voters, Bush's lead over theArizona senator had fallen from 48 points almost a year ago to 37 pointsthis week.Meanwhile, former Republican candidate Gary Bauer--who dropped out of therace earlier this month--has been criticized by two top Christian leadersfor his endorsement of McCain on Wednesday. The ex-leader of the FamilyResearch Council came under fire from Focus on the Family's James Dobson andpreacher Jerry Falwell.Dobson said that McCain had made no assurances about selecting a pro-liferunning mate, the Associated Press reported. Falwell said McCain had "soldout" to the liberal element of the Republican Party and that he "simplycannot understand" Bauer's endorsement.