Friday, July 4, 2008

Obama courts Middle America in attempt to counter 'antiChrist' image

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WASHINGTON, D.C. -- First it was patriotism, then came religion and Wednesday, Barack Obama called for young Americans to join an expanded Peace Corps that would address such issues as education and climate change at home and abroad.

In the run-up to the July 4th national holiday, Obama has been on a "values" tour of middle America as he seeks to counter Republican attempts to label him as too liberal.

In Republican-leaning Colorado Springs, the Democratic candidate laid out his national service agenda in which students would get their college tuition paid in return for national service after university.

Earlier in the week, he unexpectedly took a page from George W. Bush's political playbook by embracing his controversial "faith-based initiatives." He told voters in the evangelical heartland of Ohio that as president he would fund religious groups dealing with America's social problems provided they did not discriminate in who they offer help.

President Bush's attempt to inject religion into foreign policy was heavily criticized. In Africa, for example, U.S. funds were denied to groups that promoted the use of contraceptives to fight HIV/Aids. In the U.S. the policy was criticized for the way church groups pushed the Republican agenda.

But this plan could alienate those Democrats for whom the policy blurs the nation's constitutional separation of church and state.

The Obama team's strategy of picking up conservative, evangelical Christian voters has run into unexpectedly strong headwinds. This is especially true among the poor, white and working-class voters of Scots-Irish descent who live in the Appalachian mountain region that stretches across parts of seven states.

Along with Internet claims that he is a Muslim, some evangelical Christians have put it about that Obama may be the Antichrist.

Glenda Kinzer, 41, from rural Ohio, believes the end of the world is about to occur. "A lot of people are talking about how Obama fits the description" of the Antichrist. "I always thought he will be from the Middle East."

She intends to vote for the Republican, John McCain, who is not even a regular churchgoer.

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