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Obama Explains 'Bitter' Comments; Faith and Religion in Politics; How Will Blue-Collar Workers Respond to Obama

Aired April 13, 2008 - 22:00   ET


JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: I'm John King live in the campus of Messiah College in Scranton, Pennsylvania with the CNN Election Express and this is ROUTE 2008.

UNIDENTIFIED PRIEST: Let us begin the celebration -

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, (D-NY) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Ever since I've been a little girl, felt the presence of God in my life.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D-IL) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What are our obligations in terms of doing good work?


KING: Faith and values was the theme as Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton took the stage tonight on the small rural religious campus for what organizers called "The Compassion Forum." Compassion is not a word you hear much about the Democratic campaign for president these days especially of late (ph). Yes, inside the forum, there was talk about the role of God and politics.

But nine days before a must-win primary for Senator Clinton here in Pennsylvania, on the campaign trail today, there was anger, finger- pointing and a new round in the debate over whether recent remarks by Barack Obama were insulting and condescending for working class voters dealing with economic anxiety.

Outside the forum tonight, in fact at a rally just before it, Obama struck back at Senator Clinton for suggesting he is out of touch with his remarks about, "bitter" voters.


OBAMA: Shame on her. She knows better.


OBAMA: She is running around talking about how this is an insult to sportsmen, how she values the Second Amendment. She's talking like she's Annie Oakley.


Hillary Clinton is out there, you know, like she's out the duck blind in every Sunday. She's packing a six-shooter. Come on, she knows better.


KING: More sarcastic than angry, I think, we might describe that. That's Obama outside on the campaign trail.

Inside the forum, Senator Clinton, in a subdued way, tried to keep up the pressure.


H. CLINTON: Well, he will have to speak for himself and provide his own explanation. But I do think it raises a lot of concerns and we've seen that exhibited in the last several days by people here in Pennsylvania, in Indiana where I was yesterday, and elsewhere, because it did seem so much in-line with what often we are charged with. Someone goes to a closed-door fund-raiser in San Francisco and makes comments that do seem elitist, out of touch, and, frankly, patronizing.


KING: And when it was his turn on the stage, Obama responded.


OBAMA: And so what I was referring to was in no way demeaning a faith that I, myself, embrace. What I was saying is that when economic hardship hits in these communities, what people have is they've got family, they've got their faith, they've got the traditions that have been passed on to them from generation to generation. Those aren't bad things. That's what they have left.

But I was referring to states all across the Midwest, including my home state -- is any confidence that the government is listening to them. They don't think that government's listening to them. So I think it is very important to understand and I think it's unfortunate that, in the political process, presidential campaigns, that people have been trying to misconstrue my words.


KING: Let's bring in our CNN Senior Political Correspondent Candy Crowley. In this state and elsewhere, Senator Clinton clearly sees an opening here and Senator Obama is trying to say, OK, I chose my words not so well, and he's trying to clean it up and say, but, I'm right about the root cause.

Where are we in day two or three on this?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think, we'll have a day three and four. I thought what was interesting about Obama tonight was that he tried to link this in to his earlier days. He said, "Look, I was an organizer, I saw these factories closed in Chicago. I went into these churches." So, it was what his campaign wanted to do to kind of combat that elitist idea, saying, wait a second, I work on the streets of Chicago here, so do not call me an elitist. So, I think we'll see more and more of that and I think we saw it both inside and outside of this forum and that's what they're trying to do at this point to try to lay this sort of elite thing to rest.

KING: And the campaign is actually on two tracks, really, if not more. But the two tracks Senator Clinton trying to get working class votes here in Pennsylvania, but also trying to talk to the superdelegates who ultimately will decide, those other elected officials, trying to make the case -- you do not want to send Barack Obama up against John McCain because remember what the Republicans did to Al Gore and John Kerry.

CROWLEY: Well, yes. It's that, it's the unelectable argument. It's that and it's also, we don't know anything about this guy. We don't know what's going to come up and he's not what you think he is. Look at these things that come up.

So that has been from Reverend Wright to this, I can assure you, they're on the phones talking to superdelegates saying, pay attention to this, is this who you really want out there trying to win in those red states, trying to pull in Pennsylvania and Ohio? So, it's very definitely part and parcel and another addition to their basket of here's all of reasons why he's not electable.

KING: Candy stay here. I want to bring into our conversation David Brody. He's the senior correspondent -- national correspondent for the religious broadcast CBN News.

David, you understand the faith and politics issues as well as anyone in the country. But let's take first on this blue-collar issue. You've written, "Where's the grace? Christians are supposed to show grace." And Barack Obama said, look, I made a mistake. I chose my words.

But you also, know, today's politics, this is everywhere on the conservative blogs, the Clinton campaign has seized on it, the McCain campaign and the Republican Party have seized on it, a mistake by Obama, has he done enough to clean it up, yet?

DAVID BRODY, CBN SR. NAT'L CORRESPONDENT: Well, that remains to be seen, and as Candy was saying, this is going to go on for a little bit here. No, the reality is that, he did make a mistake in the wording and he has been clear about that, the question is, how much is this really going play in Middle America as we go forward?

Because, look, this is a campaign that is 24/7 and there are going to be mistakes made and already, the Obama campaign is bringing up President Clinton's mistake from the past, some of the wording that he's used in the past.

So, there is a grace element to it, but, at the end of day, Barack Obama has got some real issues, and if you looked at what happened tonight, what he was talking about was he kept talking about being a devout Christian, about being -- you know, this whole clinging to religion idea is a problem for him because he needs to let people know that he's part of the Christian community, that he's a devout Christian and with the Reverend Wright comments, it all plays to one big umbrella theme for him.

KING: Well, let's keep going on that and let's listen to something that came up in the discussion tonight. You have the two Democratic candidates back-to-back, discussing the role of God in their life, the role of God in politics and in public policy.

Let's listen to Senator Barack Obama talking about evangelicals.


OBAMA: You have the notion that somebody like myself who has been working in churches since I got out of college and whose entire trajectory, not just during this campaign, but long before, has been to talk about how Democrats need to get in church, reach out to evangelicals, link faith with the work that we do. The notion that somehow I'm standing above that when that's essentially describes much of what I've been doing over the last 20 years doesn't make much sense.


KING: Well, you hear him talking there about A, his own experience, and B, Democrats need to do a better job of reaching out to evangelicals.

Is this enough in that effort and has Michael Grossman (ph) went on immediately after, he said, you know, the issues portfolio has changed. It's not just about abortion and same-sex marriage, it's about poverty, it's about AIDS, it's about climate change?

BRODY: Well, that's right. And Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, what they did tonight, they just come here and discuss these issues and throw out Bible versus, if you will. I mean, there is a lot of positive to that for the Democratic Party. And if you look right now, the biggest winners tonight are the DNC, the Democratic National Committee.

I mean, in essence, there would be balloons and other festivities inside the DNC headquarters because this is what they wanted all along. It started in 2004, would you have had John Kerry and others hearing (ph) in a forum like this? Absolutely not.

And if you look at a religious right, let's say for a second that a Tony Perkins and a James Dobson, if they were going hold some sort of religious right forum, who would show up today? I mean, they tried to do this in the fall and we had the Value Voters debate and we had Allen Keyes, we had Mike Huckabee, we had Sam Brownback -- that was about it. No Mitt Romney, no John McCain, no Rudy Giuliani.

And so, what you're seeing here is that the Democrats are capitalizing on an area that's very important, not just the conservative evangelicals. Look, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are not going win the single-issue voters, but they sure may win some of those moderate evangelicals.

KING: And, Candy, how significant is it that you have the Democrats talking about faith in a way, as David said, that is ground breaking at least for national politics for them? Some local Democrats do this and they've been yelling at their party for a long time do it.

And you have John McCain who says he's a man of deep personal faith and tells us some stories about his military service, when he was prisoner of war in Vietnam and yet does not openly talk about his faith and how important it is to him and especially when you contrast him to George W. Bush.

CROWLEY: Absolutely. And I think it's a problem for John McCain because he's not that kind of guy. You know that. It's not going to be easy for him. We have heard him talk about it in little bits and sort of privately about the role of God when he was a prisoner of war. And I see that campaign sort of finding a way for him to get to spirituality and religion through his biography.

But you're absolutely right that right now the Democrats are the ones more deft at this and it matters in the red counties, even in the blue states. It matters in all of these places throughout the Bible belt. I mean, the Democrats have said, you want to win the rural votes? You want to win south of the Mason-Dixon? This is precisely the sort of thing you need to do.

BRODY: And think (INAUDIBLE) about what could have happened tonight for John McCain if he had showed up and kind of owned the pro- life issue. If he had come out and said, I have a 24-year record on the pro-life issue. He could have made that contrast, in an essence, really benefited his case in front of many evangelicals tonight. But by not showing up, he wasn't able to do that.

KING: I want you to listen carefully (ph) to something Senator Clinton said tonight that many would take as an interpretation of the Monica Lewinsky scandal. She was asked about the role of faith and forgiveness in her life.


H. CLINTON: I don't think that I could have made my life's journey without being anchored in God's grace and without having that, you know, sense of forgiveness and unconditional love. And I'm not going to point to one or another matter. I mean, some of my struggles and challenges have been extremely public.


KING: David, she won't point to one or another matter but, I think, anybody listening would sort of think of one.

BRODY: Yes, there's no doubt about it. When I had about a 30- minute conversation with her on camera for CBN and indeed, she talked about it and she was pretty open about it. And they, you know, look, the campaign wants to talk about this. When I say they want to talk about it, there is a big internal disagreement, so to speak, about, you know, how much should we see the softer side of Hillary, and tonight, we saw the softer side of Hillary.

We were hearing the Holy Spirit where you talk -- I don't know if we were hearing the Holy Spirit but she was talking about the Holy Spirit, Bible stories, Esther. I mean, I was waiting for the altar call. I mean, it was so much out there and, listen, once again to the single-issue voter, no. That's not going resonate.

But she's not going to win the folks that already don't like her, but for the folks that are on the fence and as we've seen in this election, there are quite a few of them, that's where she can make a difference.

CROWLEY: And one of the things - you're right, they do want to talk about it in a sort of coded way. There is a new ad coming out in North Carolina from the Clinton campaign that features an older woman talking about how Hillary Clinton climbed the mountaintop, how she prayed for Hillary Clinton during her tough times, and everybody will know what tough time we're talking about here.

KING: And we'll track her tough time here over the next nine days. Candy Crowley, David Brody, thank you both for joining us.

And, it wasn't only the discussion of this here at The Compassion Forum here in Pennsylvania today. Former President Bill Clinton weighed in on the bitter controversy today during a stop in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania.

Let's go live to CNN's Jim Acosta. Jim is out on the campaign trail as well.

Jim, how big of an issue out there today?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well it seems to be a big issue out here on the campaign trail. We heard this not just come up today in Pennsylvania, but also in Indiana across the state yesterday as Hillary Clinton was making campaign stops from here in Indianapolis all the way up to Valparaiso.

But you're right, the former President Bill Clinton is wading into the waters here in this controversy over Barack Obama's comments about blue-collar workers. And keep in mind, Bill Clinton was just dialed back by the campaign a couple of days ago. His own wife, asking him to put a lid on it, regarding Bill Clinton's statements about Hillary Clinton's controversial remarks about her trip to Bosnia in 1996. The former first lady asking the former president to try to refrain from talking about that controversy.

But today, Bill Clinton let loose on this Obama controversy.


WILLIAM JEFFERSON CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Folks, I was shaking hands and taking a few pictures back stage and this fellow looked at me and he said, "I just want you to know the people you are about to see are not bitter. They're proud."


W. CLINTON: They just want this country to go in a different direction. They want to restore the middle class, reclaim the future for our kids, reform the government and take it away from the special interests, restore America's standing in the world, bring our troops home from Iraq, and take care of our veterans and our men and women in uniform. That's what Hillary offers.


ACOSTA: And at the end of those comments, Bill Clinton is talking about, you know, as a Baptist, he's always looking for a couple of witnesses and he found a couple of witnesses in that audience today, John. The very same context of that argument that Bill Clinton was making there, we heard from Hillary Clinton out on the campaign trail in Indianapolis and across Indiana yesterday, talking about not just her -- how she feels that she connects with these blue-collar workers, but also on the issue of faith as well.

KING: And, Jim, a lot of sound from the candidates and in Bill Clinton's case, the surrogates. How did this play out in the local newspaper today?

ACOSTA: Well, it was interesting. Hillary Clinton went to Scranton, Pennsylvania, today to bolster those blue-collar credentials. She talked about her life there as a child in Scranton, Pennsylvania and in Northeastern Pennsylvania. She's talked over the last 24 hours about how her grandfather used to work on the mills in Scranton.

Well, on the very same day that she was talking about her father and about her family there in Scranton, Pennsylvania, that newspaper, the "Times Tribune" endorsed Barack Obama today despite the fact that that newspaper ran as one of its headlines, "Obama's 'Bitter Pill," referring to the controversy coming from the Illinois senator, John.

KING: Not the first time the front page and the editorial page striking a different cord. Jim Acosta for us on the campaign trail tonight.

My thanks again to Candy Crowley and David Brody as well.

And when we continue, they're one most important voting groups here in Pennsylvania, Catholics, millions of them in this state. They don't always vote along faith lines or follow the Vatican's wishes, but in this state, they're always a critical swing group.

Plus: Senator Bob Casey, he's one of the most influential leaders in Pennsylvania politics and an Obama supporter. He's talking to us about the primary, this state, and what it will take to win the election.

And later: Two prominent religious leaders who took part in tonight's forum, we'll ask them what they learned about the Democratic candidate.

Stay with us. You're watching ROUTE 2008.



KING (voice-over): Blue-collar Catholics are a critical swing vote in Pennsylvania politics. In 2000, Catholics represented 39 percent of the electorate and by a narrow 50 percent to 46 percent margin, backed Democrat Al Gore over Republican George W. Bush. In 2004, 35 percent of the Pennsylvania voters were Catholics and they split 51 percent for Democrat John Kerry, 49 percent for President Bush.


KING: Those numbers tell you Pennsylvania Catholics will play a big role in next week's Democratic primary here and both candidates as we've seen tonight, are trying to appeal to the faithful, especially those ethnic Catholics often referred to as Reagan Democrats.


KING (voice-over): St. Sebastian is Pittsburgh's largest Roman Catholic parish. This: a Sunday morning snapshot of the white ethnic voting bloc pivotal in Pennsylvania politics.

TERRY MADONNA, POLLSTER, FRANKLIN & MARSHALL COLLEGE: It's very, very important because they're numerous. Forty percent of the voters of our state tend to be these more conservative blue-collar working class Catholic Democrats.

KING: More than 700,000 Catholics in the Pittsburgh diocese alone, political participation is encouraged, but inside the church, clear lines.

REV. JAMES WEHNER, DIOCESE OF PITTSBURGH: When Jesus gives us a warning, doesn't he? Be careful (ph), a lot of people claim to be (INAUDIBLE) -- a lot of people claim to have the truth.

KING: No endorsements from the altar. Father James Wehner knows it is an election year, knows the Pope will be visiting the United States this week, and knows the teachings of the church and the platforms of the politicians don't always match up.

WEHNER: So many people think that to be Catholic you are a good American, well, if you could truly be free you can't follow all of the teachings of the Catholic Church. That is a lie.

KING: After mass, he's enthusiastic with the parishioners and careful with how they might choose between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

(on-camera): And both of whom are very outspoken in their support of abortion rights and both of whom are very dependent on blue-collar Catholic votes. That's a hard one.

WEHNER: And that's why in the church, we make it very clear. We don't tell people who to vote for. We tell people how we should be voting. You know, and so, we may agree or disagree as we look at what are all of these moral issues before us.

KING (voice-over): This is Senator Clinton's base. She needs big margins in communities like this to offset Obama's likely edge in inner city Philadelphia.

Hillary Clinton's strength in Pennsylvania has been among working class voters, Catholics, union members, senior citizens and Pennsylvania has those in very large numbers.

DOLLY SCHEIBLE, CATHOLIC VOTER: I'm kind of on the fence right now.

KING: Dolly Scheible has never voted Democrat for president, but says she might if she has a chance to vote for a woman. John McCain definitely gets her vote if the Democrats nominate Obama.

SCHEIBLE: There are a lot of words, you know? And you know, words are cheap many times because how do you think that you're going to change everything? I can't see that you can.

KING: Just one more Sunday before Pennsylvania's presidential primary, and then the question in places like this, turns to how this state's critical Catholic vote will break come November.


KING: "Reagan Democrats" is a term that comes up during every presidential election season. In Pennsylvania, that bloc of voters tends to be called "Casey Democrats" after the late former Democratic Governor Robert Casey, a conservative Catholic who opposed abortion rights. One of Barack Obama's most prominent supporters here in Pennsylvania is the former governor's son, U.S. Senator Bob Casey.

Listen to his definition.


SEN. BOB CASEY, (D) PENNSYLVANIA: If you do it in a broad sense with a broad brush, Democrats who are probably economic liberal, so to speak, and believe that government has a positive role to play to help people, the great programs like Social Security and Medicare and children's health insurance are more modern iterations of some of those other programs, but also is probably maybe more culturally conservative.

It's that combination, I think, that people usually point to, and I do think that voters in our state who would be described as "Casey Democrats" are still in large measure, are up for grabs, not only in this primary process, but will still continue to be a real focus in the general election. And that's why, I think it's important that our nominee can reach across the aisle, so to speak, and pick up Republican and independent votes in addition to getting segments of our Democratic electorate.

I think Senator Obama can do all of that. I think he has the best chance to hold our Democratic base, but also get a number of votes from Republicans and independents.

KING (on-camera): And there's the flipside of that, do you have a legitimate concern that Senator McCain can do that? He has proven to have an ability to reach across the lines more so than say, someone who is viewed as a definitive partisan Republican like George W. Bush.

CASEY: Absolutely. I think Senator McCain is going to be very formidable in our state because he has the perception, and I think there's some evidence to contest his independence, but I think the perception of him as a more independent Republican makes it - makes them more of a threat to our nominee in places like the Philadelphia suburbs and in parts of Western Pennsylvania.

KING: How concerned are you about divisions in the party? This is a remarkable race and the Democratic Party will make history. It will nominate either its first woman candidate or its first African- American candidate, there's a great deal of excitement, you see it in the turnout, you see it in the fundraising.

But as we move from January, February, into March and now, April, you also see tension that comes with that excitement and just going through canvassing if your state. The house of labor is divided. You have some African-American groups against traditional women's groups in the party. How concerned are you that the longer this goes on, the bruises will turn into wounds?

CASEY: Well, I do have a concern about it. I also think that it can strengthen our party. A good contest like this prepares our candidates for what we know it will be a tough general election campaign.

But if we all work together and the candidates and their campaigns and elected officials like me, work to bring the sides together, I think we can. I've been in a lot of primaries. I've been in three state-led primaries and four general elections in 10 years, 11 years, maybe, and I've heard a lot of vows made. I will never support this other Democrat. I will never speak to that person again.

And usually, the passage of time heals some of those wounds or heals some of those divisions, and I think we can. I'm not saying it's going to be easy. I'm not saying that the Republicans won't exploit our divisions, but I think we can bring people together.


KING: Traveling through Pennsylvania and we logged more than 1900 miles on just one of our vehicles this week. You get a sense of how diverse this state is -- different areas, different cities and very different political views.

Coming up, a breakdown and what it will take to win the Keystone State. Plus, the candidate who wasn't part of the forum tonight -- John McCain, his view faith and how it's impacting his standing with some key Republicans.


KING: To say the least, Pennsylvania has a fascinating political geography, with several distinct voting patterns in key part of the state. A check of the map reveals how the candidates will have to appeal to this diverse group of voters.


KING: One of the things that makes Pennsylvania so fascinating not only in this Democratic primary, but as we look for lessons heading forward to the November battleground, not only in Pennsylvania but across the country, is the diversity of this large state.

You start here in Philadelphia. It is an eastern city, a large African-American population, much more like New York than say, Pittsburgh to the west. Philadelphia is the critical city in Pennsylvania because of the population and because of the Democratic turnout inside the city.

Pittsburgh out here in the west is once the capital of steel, "The Gateway to the Midwest." Pittsburgh much more a Midwestern city as Philadelphia is an eastern city. It's still a critical battleground for the Democrats here, an area where they must run up big numbers in the general election.

Then you get into the central part of the state, which is fascinating. This area here from Lancaster all the way out here, this what locals call "The T." They come up through the central part of the state and they go across to the New York border. This is the culturally conservative agricultural area, rural area, a much more Republican, almost like a southern vote in its voting patterns. We can show you what we mean by that, but going back in 2000.

You see the results in 2000, Al Gore is blue. He went big in the blue-collar corridors in the east and the west, and the heartland, the middle of the state overwhelmingly for George W. Bush, not enough for Bush to carry the state. He lost it both in 2000 here and again in 2004, but you see where the culturally conservative voters are in the middle of the state. You see where the blue collar Democratic turnout is in the east of the state.

This is worth remembering as we head forward to November if John McCain will make this a red state come November, he not only has to do what George W. Bush did out here in the middle part, but he has to do better than George W. Bush over here in the east especially in the suburban collar just around Philadelphia.


KING: And those Philadelphia suburbs used to be solid red, but not anymore. Ahead, former governor Tom Ridge talks about the shifting views in the suburbs and John McCain's chances here in Pennsylvania and more on the "Compassion Forum." Two who took part in tonight's discussion talk about faith, politics and what they learned from the Democratic candidates tonight.

Stay with us. You're watching "Route 2008."


KING: Tonight's "Compassion Forum" gave the Democratic candidates, Clinton and Obama a chance to explain their views on some complicated and some very personal issues. Both senators were asked the question do you believe that life begins at conception? Here's how they answered.


H. CLINTON: I believe that the potential for life begins at conception. I think abortion should remain legal, but it needs to be safe and rare, and I have spent many years now as a private citizen, as first lady and now as senator trying to make it rare.

OBAMA: I think it's very hard to know what that means when life begins as when a cell separates, is it when the soul stirs. So I don't presume to know the answer to that question. What I know as I've said before is that there is something extraordinarily powerful about potential life and that that has a moral weight to it.


KING: Let's talk with two ministers who were in the audience for tonight's discussion and ask them questions. The Reverend Frank Page is the president of the Southern Baptist Convention and Reverend William Shaw is head of the National Baptist Convention and the largest association of African-American churches across the country.

Gentlemen, thank you both for joining us.

I just want to start by getting your threshold impression. You have the two Democratic candidates tonight. We hear them everyday on the campaign trail talking about the war in Iraq, about the economy, about taxes and health care.

Today it was much more personal, faith, the role of god in issues whether it be abortion, whether life begins at conception, does god have anything to do with AIDS? What is the role of faith and climate change. What are your impressions?

REV. WILLIAM SHAW, PRES., NATIONAL BAPTIST CONVENTION: I thought they both were very honest about how the faith impacted their view on things. I didn't expect that they would have a common view on it because faith is such a personal thing and it comes out such a varying background, but I thought that it was informative that they could so speak. KING: The Southern Baptist Convention often associated with more conservative voters and the Democrats have had a problem reaching out to evangelicals, more southern conservative voters in roads (ph) tonight? Anything that impressed you? Anything that disappointed you?

REV. FRANK PAGE, PERS. SOUTHERN BAPTIST CONVENTION: thank you, John. I do think it was a good night. I think it was honest on the part of both candidates. I disagreed with some of the things they said and I could have helped them with some of their answers if they had asked because they both admitted several times they simply didn't know.

And, yes, Southern Baptists have been associated with the moral conservative evangelical group and certainly have been very strong in pro-life issues which we agree with and hold too strongly, but I appreciated the honesty of both candidates. I appreciated them agreeing that faith does have a role and that we as faith people should speak up and even Hillary Clinton said it's our obligation to do so and I appreciate that very much.

KING: How comfortable are you? We're in an election year. It's a hotly-contested election and a hotly-contested primary at the moment. They talked themselves about how sometimes where is the line between faith? Your personal faith and politics? How comfortable are you? What do you think your role should be in a presidential campaign year?

SHAW: I think that the role of the faith community in any continuing setting and the relationship with government is to really challenge what are the assumptions of government and government leaders in the light of the faith as we know it. And that means not making religious views a part of party planks because that presents the whetting of faith and political parties that ought soon end in divorce because the faith community ought come always as an objective viewing community on the policies and platforms.

The issue, for instance, was raised about when life begins is an issue that really is aimed towards anti-abortion. I don't think that abortion as a policy should be acceptable, but I don't think that's the whole of morality because the issue of when life begins needs to be coupled with how life is lived as it develops and if there is strong standing that life ought be protected at birth. Then there needs to be equally strong standing that life ought to be protected as it develops. The right to be born or be matched by the right to live.

KING: Reverend Page, I believe it was your question about the role of the organization in trying to fight AIDS in Africa and you spoke about abstinence, should absence be a role? What is the role of god in that? Was the answer from senator - satisfactory, number one and number two, is that issue one where we say, hey, look, we might disagree on some things whether we're Democrats or Republicans, whether we're Southern Baptists or Methodists or anything else, but here are some things that it was praise from President Bush from the Democrat side. Here are some things that where you all set our differences aside and let's work together on these things. PAGE: First of all, to answer your question, John, I did think Senator Obama was very good in answering that question because he did agree that there is the aspect of faith and personal responsibility along with education and ministry toward HIV/AIDS persons. So I appreciated very much what he had to say about, for example, where there's promiscuity that there are needs to be responsibility taken in that particular area. So I felt very good about that, and I appreciated him being forthcoming in that particular area.

So, yes, there are times we're going disagree. There are going to be times when we have very strongly varied opinions and we can work together and I appreciate that. I wish Senator McCain would have accepted the invitation to have come and been here also because this was a non-partisan event, and I wish he would have come. It would have been good to hear how he would have answered some of the same questions.

KING: That's what I was going ask in closing. We're short on time. But what is to be gained by Senator McCain. I'm asking the question backwards, I suspect. What was to be gained by Senator McCain by staying away?

SHAW: You would have to ask Senator McCain that because I think he missed a great opportunity.

KING: May reach across the aisle. He could have been here reaching...

PAGE: I wish he would have. I met with him personally and would have welcomed to hear him answer some of his faith, compassion oriented questions.

KING: Reverend Frank Page and Reverend William Shaw, thank you both for your time and for participating in the forum.

PAGE: Thanks, John.

KING: Thank you both very much.

Now, the Democratic hopefuls dominated tonight's spotlight, but what about John McCain? Our Dana Bash looks at the leading Republican again and his faith and about his political hopes right here in Pennsylvania. We'll talk about this with the state's former GOP Governor Tom Ridge.

Please stay with us. You're watching "Route 2008" on CNN.


KING: John McCain doesn't wear his faith on his sleeve. In fact, he doesn't often talk about it. Senator McCain was invited to this evening's forum but he didn't. Dana Bash joins me now.

Dana, why didn't he attend? Is this a subject that he's not at ease discussing? DANA BASH CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, he said that he had a scheduling conflict but he was home in Arizona today. Tonight, he came back to Washington. So scheduling conflict or not, you know, to answer your question, we did see here tonight was definitely a role reversal. You saw Democrats very eager to talk about their faith and on the stump, John McCain, he doesn't talk about it much.


BASH (voice-over): Sunday morning at the New Covenant Fellowship Church.

The sights and sounds of prayer in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania.


BASH: These are evangelical voters that Republican presidential candidates rely on to win this state, but they're expressing the kind of faith John McCain almost never does.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Honestly haven't gotten a good feel for him. I've been to his Web site a few times but I don't have a good feel as to where he stands when it comes to other issues that aren't the ones that are maybe mainstream. As you said, that Christians tend to look at.

BASH: McCain raised an Episcopalian now belongs to a Baptist Church, but was not baptized. On the rare occasions he mentions his faith, it's usually in his comfort zone, the military and its men.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Their duty and loyalty belong to their country, they find solace in their faith in god.

BASH: Quite a contrast to the current GOP president who famously said this when asked to name his favorite philosopher.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Christ. Because he changed my heart.

BASH: McCain is from an older generation, more private about prayer.

MCCAIN: I'm unashamed and unembarrassed about my deep faith in god, but I do not obviously, try to impose my views on others.

BASH: But he is equally quiet about his policy positions important to evangelicals like his opposition to abortion and has angered social conservatives on a host of issues like support for embryonic stem-cell research.

MIKE GEER, PENNSYLVANIA FAMILY INST.: He's got some problem, no question about it and if he talks about those things that are important and has a track record behind it, I think he can win people over. BASH: Back at the Evangelical Church, Pastor Brett Hartman disagrees with McCain on several issues, but says he's not bothered that McCain doesn't talk much about his faith.

PASTOR BRETT HARTMAN, NEW COVENANT FELLOWSHIP CHURCH: Sometimes when people kind of use the platform of their faith that it takes away a little bit from their integrity.

BASH: He tells his conservative flock to judge a candidate by his actions and not words. That's what the gospel teaches.


BASH: Now we did actually find an interview that John McCain gave to and this was back during the primaries. And he did actually talk extensively about his faith. He talked about the fact that he was the head of a prayer group back when he was a prisoner of war for his fellow prisoners in Vietnam.

He said he prays every day. He asks for guidance. He asks for strength. He said that he can't tell at least the interviewer whether he's had a revelation from god, but he said it's kind of been prodding. I was actually surprised to find this. I cannot expect this will not be something that he's going to talk much more about given the climate that we're in, given what we just heard from the Democrats tonight.

KING: He certainly did miss a chance. I want to shift gears quickly. We've heard from his campaign, but not from the senator himself about the whole dust-up over Barack Obama's comments about blue collar workers who cling to god and cling to their guns at times of economic anxiety. When will we hear from McCain?

BASH: We're told from the McCain campaign, tomorrow morning. He has been down all week and he hasn't had any public events. He's going to appear before the Associated Press and they have a forum in Washington, D.C., he's going -- we're told he will speak there tomorrow morning. Obviously his campaign, as you said, they have been very eager to jump all over this just as Hillary Clinton's campaign. Hillary Clinton has.

So we can expect him perhaps to use the same word that we heard all weekend from Hillary Clinton and from McCain's campaign, elitist. It will be interesting to see especially from the candidate who insists on having sort of an above the board, above the fray campaign. How he deals with this particular issue, his campaign says this is their game.

KING: We'll watch it tomorrow in Washington. Senator Obama speaking to the same group of newspaper editors and we believe he's going comment on this one as well and we will watch it. And as the suburban vote goes, so may go the general election. We'll look at how one county in southeastern Pennsylvania may be a bellwether for how Republicans fare among suburbanites.

And former Governor Tom Ridge, a Republican who has done something here that President Bush couldn't, win statewide here in Pennsylvania. What words of advice does he have now for Senator McCain? That's coming up here on ROUTE 2008.


KING: There's an important shift under way in the Pennsylvania suburbs. Long dominant Republicans have seen their political advantage slip away and the competitive Democratic race has energized long demoralized Democrats.


KING (voice-over): One sign of change in the Philadelphia suburbs, new homes crowding out the farmland. The way it was, challenged by the trappings of steady growth. More people means more political power. Here and across America, suburbs with enormous clout in state and presidential politics.

JAMES CAWLEY, CHMN, BUCKS COUNTY COMMISSION: In southeastern Pennsylvania, in Bucks County, it is very, very important as a key to the keystone state.

KING: Which is why one big change doesn't sit well with James Cawley, the Republican chairman of the Bucks County Commission. For three decades, Republicans outnumber Democrats here peaking at a nearly 50,000 edge in voter registration eight years ago. No more. Republicans began the year with a more than 20,000 voter advantage in Bucks County, but just three months later, Democrats lead by 3,500 voters.

ED WOLFF, BUCKS CO. DEMOCRATIC CMTE.: People are unhappy with what's happening with the national level and in the international scene, and I think that we have two exciting candidates.

KING: One of those candidates, Barack Obama has two busy campaign offices in the county and gets credit for some of the new voter registration. Republican Cawley also attributes some switching to conservative talk radio host urging Republicans to support Hillary Clinton to keep the Democratic race going.

CAWLEY: I think that it is, it is part of the phenomena. I can't necessarily sit here and say I know exactly how many switch.

WOLFF: I think it's marginal. Yes. The people who have come into this office, and the people who we've signed up through our consistent voter registration drives have looked us in the eye and it wasn't something that they're doing to cause chaos.

KING: Some of it is personal to President Bush. The Iraq war is profoundly unpopular and Mr. Bush's views on abortion and stem-cell research are out of step with the more moderate politics here. Cawley isn't one to blame Mr. Bush, but he hopes Senator John McCain's less partisan image is the beginning of a GOP turnaround.

CAWLYE: You know, in areas like the environment, campaign finance reform, all of those areas that are important to the voters here in this county, but I think at the end of day they're going to be quite comfortable in voting for him.

KING: It is a place full of independent-minded swing voters, but at the moment Democrats not only have a slight advantage, but see this as a year to swing Bucks County and other crucial suburbs even more their way.


KING: It's been 20 years now since a Republican carried Pennsylvania for president. George H.W. Bush did it in 1998. Democrats have won the last four times. The question is can John McCain turn it around for the Republicans in Pennsylvania doing what President Bush most recently failed to do in this state.

Listen to former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge.


TOM RIDGE (R), FORMER PENNSYLVANIA GOVERNOR: Well, I think he is -- he projects himself a little bit differently in the sense that he's been willing to take on a lot of these controversial issues. I think his candor, his independence, his character, I think lend themes to people who would otherwise vote for a Democrat, look at him at least initially favorably and then depending who he squares off against and ultimately give him the vote.

I think he's just -- he's viewed as a different kind of Republican and some say he's moderate. I know he's got a consistent conservative record but he's independent enough and he reaches across the aisle and that appeals to a lot of the Democrats and they want a president who not only reaches across the aisle but who has done it successfully and John certainly has, both that capability and that experience.

KING: Expand on that. Is he less ideological? Has he proven himself to be more bipartisan? Is it the social issues like abortion where in those suburbs President Bush's position perhaps is tougher to sell. McCain has the same position on paper, but is he less, does he seem less likely to advocate it or push it?

RIDGE: I think on many of the social issues, he has a similar stance as President Bush does, but it is -- it will not have as high profile because it's important to him and it's important to the party, but I think he believes it for purposes of this election and even more critical issues and then they do differ on, I think with regard to some of those social issues.

So some of those differences as well as his willingness to reach across the aisle, his experience with foreign leaders and his strength in military affairs, foreign policy. That combination is significantly different, subsequently different than President Bush had. I think it lends itself to the possibility of doing better in those collar counties.

KING: And how would you advise him to talk about the war? If you go in especially in those suburban counties. 17,000 of your 21,000 National Guard troops have been deployed since 9/11. A significant death toll in Iraq and in Afghanistan. Even people who support the idea of the war, the mission of the war are tired. It's been a long time.

RIDGE: First of all, I think, people who know about John know that he -- of all the candidates understands the consequence of war in a real and personal way. I don't think he, frankly, reminds enough people and it's just not his nature that he has one son that's already served over there and another son that could when he gets out of Annapolis.

So it's deeply personal to him, but as he takes a look at the threat. He calls it the transcendental threat of the time for America. He's firmly committed to it. He's laid out his position. He will not deviate from that, and I think the challenge that he has is to communicate that message in as personal a term as he possibly can. There are a lot of veterans in this state that will support him.

They know he's a man of principle. They believe and share his beliefs that if we don't deal with al Qaeda, if we don't deal with these extremists in Afghanistan and Iraq, we'll be dealing with them elsewhere and if we pull out precipitously, we may be sending troops back in.


KING: The former governor of Pennsylvania Tom Ridge there.

Well, a 91-year-old woman is coming to Hillary Clinton's defense. We'll tell you why when we check our political ticker just ahead.


KING: Let's look at our ROUTE 2008 political ticker. Hillary Clinton is launching a new TV ad featuring 91-year-old Jewel Hodges, explaining why she's decided to vote Clinton.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She had to climb up the rough side of the mountain in life. I saw her take her faith, courage, strength, dignity and climb that mountain.


KING: North Carolina's primary is May 6.

Stay with CNN as we continue along ROUTE 2008 in the month ahead.

I'm John King. Thanks for joining us tonight.