obama3.jpgWith Mike Huckabee’s dramatic win in Iowa and his impressive national poll numbers, the closest thing the Republican Party has to a frontrunner at the moment appears to be a Baptist preacher. But is another kind of preacher leading the Democratic presidential field?
Stopping by a packed Barack Obama rally last night in Rochester, New Hampshire, God-o-Meter noticed that fans standing behind the candidate on stage waved homemade poster board signs proclaiming “In Obama We Trust” and “Believe.” The local activist who introduced Obama said, “What I really like is his ability to uplift people.” And Obama opened his stump speech this way: “Over the next 20 minutes or so, you’re going to see a light shine down the from the ceiling… you’re going to have an epiphany.”

By the end of the evening, many of the rally’s estimated 1,000 attendees did, according to an informal God-o-Meter’s survey. “He’s incredibly exciting and charismatic,” said Elizabeth Brooks, 57. “I believe in what he’s saying.
“We heard Hillary yesterday, and she has the same message,” said Anton Becker, 67, leaving the event with his wife. “But Obama is much more inspirational.”
Indeed, God-o-Meter would go so far to say that Obama, peddling his message that hope matters more than experience, has become the Democrats’ secular preacher, his party’s rough equivalent to Huckabee, who’s been criticized for campaigning to be “pastor-in-chief.”
There are blatant religious overtones to Obama’s campaign. Jim Wallis calls him “virtually a public theologian… articulating the relationship between faith and politics.” During last night’s rally in Rochester, Obama opened his speech with an anecdote about his stint organizing churches in Chicago to respond to the closing of steel mills there.
But that’s not what God-o-Meter is talking about. Rather, GOM sees Obama preaching a secular religion of hope, a post-partisan deliverance from the nation’s current moment of bitter ideological stalemate. The message includes broad liberal goals like ending the Iraq war and restoring America’s high international standing, but is decidedly short on specific policy prescriptions.
The Obama faithful don’t seem to mind. When God-o-Meter asked a dozen attendees at last night’s rally why they supported Obama, none mentioned a specific issue—or even a general one. At a Huckabee event earlier that morning, by contrast, supporters mentioned the former Arkansas governor’s pro-life views or his promise to help the middle class as secondary reasons for supporting him, even while acknowledging Huckabee’s “Christian values” as the prime reason.
On her way out of last night’s event, 41-year-old Sandy Becker said she backs Obama because “he gives us something to hope for.” Asked if there were any specific issues undergirding her support, the Montessori school owner said that “Obama can cut across all issues.”
Obama himself wouldn’t disagree. “Let me talk about hope,” he said near the end of last night’s speech. “I’ve been talking about hope so much I’ve been derided for it. Lately some folks have said Obama is so idealist, so naïve—he’s a hopemonger.”
Hopemonger. Isn’t that just another name for minister?


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