Political observers have noticed a surprising twist this election campaign: Democrats and Republicans seem to have switched places in their use of religious rhetoric.

Republican candidate Fred Thompson said he attends church only when visiting his mother, while Rudy Giuliani told reporters he prays like a lawyer: "I try to make a deal: 'Get me out of this jam, and I'll start going back to church.'"

Meanwhile, Democrats have been wearing their religious commitments on their sleeves. Senators Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and John Edwards all speak frequently and publicly about their faith.

"That is a change from the past," said John Green, senior fellow at the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. Democrats have traditionally kept their faith private, he said, because their base was seen as primarily secular.

But after the strong showing of evangelical voters for George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004, some Democratic Congressional candidates began reaching out to the religious community. It worked in 2006, said Mara Vanderslice, senior partner and founder of Common Good Strategies, which seeks to build alliances between Democrats and the religious community.

"[Religious Democrats] did significantly better than the rest of the Democrats did around the country," Vanderslice said. "The presidential candidates have learned that lesson."

Vanderslice believes Demo-crats are gaining a hearing within an evangelical community that is "broadening their agenda … [beyond] abortion and gay marriage."

So why are leading Republican candidates downplaying their faith? "I would expect both sides to be talking about it," said Jim Tonkowich, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy. "There is certainly an awareness after the last two elections ...

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