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REBECCA ROBERTS, host:

Commentator David Kuo is an evangelical Christian and he's been watching the presidential debates closely. He says it's a political world turned upside-down, especially when it comes to faith.

Mr. DAVID KUO (Former Deputy Director, Office Of The Faith-Based Community Initiatives): Last night in New Hampshire, Republican presidential candidates were long on conservatism and short on compassion. On immigration, on Iraq, on virtually every issue, the consensus was that America hasn't been tough enough. No compassion for anyone - particularly those 12 million Americans who got here illegally.

When it came to the hungry - or, more precisely, those the Bush Administration has categorized as food insecure - there was silence. So too on issues like poverty and youth violence and the epidemic of the uninsured. And Jesus made only the briefest appearance - first from Wolf Blitzer's lips in a question to Rudy Giuliani and then from Mormon Governor Mitt Romney who declared his love for Jesus.

Governor Romney doesn't really want an in-depth examination of his Mormon faith. Mayor Giuliani certainly doesn't want to explain his penchant for marrying in a religious context. And John McCain, who once called religious right leaders agents of intolerance, isn't leaping at the chance to play pastor either.

How differently the Democrats are behaving. Monday night the progressive religious organization Sojourners hosted the three leading Democratic presidential candidates at a forum on faith, values, and poverty. It was a Jesus fair.

John Edwards talked about how his faith in Jesus saved his life after the death of his son. Barack Obama, playing theologian, talked about what Jesus required of men and women today. And Hillary Clinton adopted the use of Republican religious code words when talking about her faith. She spoke of witness and prayer warriors even as she suggested that her faith in Jesus is what gave her the strength to save her marriage despite the ease with which she might have divorced Bill Clinton after his adultery.

So what are we to make of this odd political situation? Well, the Democrats have clearly decided that George W. Bush's example of talking openly about the substance of his religious faith is the way to go. In 2000 and again in 2004, Bush ran as virtually a pastor-in-chief when talking to Christian audiences. He made it seem that the religious should vote for him simply because of his faith. The Democrats, longing for religious votes are gambling they can do the same.

Republicans meanwhile, terrified of being too closely identified with Bush are doing all they can to run away from him. One of the ways they are trying to do that is by any muting any religion talk. They are trying to return to hard-core conservatism devoid of any of Bush's faith or compassion talk. What an odd political legacy President Bush is beginning to leave - Democrats as evangelists and Republicans running scared from faith.

ROBERTS: David Kuo is the former deputy director of the office of the faith-based community initiatives in the Bush administration.

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