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Even earlier in the cycle than we expected, Independent groups are increasingly fighting the presidential race on issues of faith and abortion.

We’ve had Born Alive Truth attacking Obama and Catholics United attacking McCain.

Now we have a new nonprofit group affiliated with the New York chapter of NARAL Pro-Choice America running anti-McCain ads; the Knights of Columbus criticizing Democrat VP candidate Joe Biden; and a new radio ad burnishing Obama’s Christian credentials. It’s the cultural battleground of the battleground states, so expect more.

The new group, with the curious name Winning Message Action Fund, shares leadership and an address with NARAL Pro-Choice New York. Its ad quotes McCain saying he opposes Roe v. Wade, then says, “We have questions, John McCain: Will you stand by if states put women in jail? If women are forced back into back alleys?”

The ad is running in Philadelphia through a service that allows ordinary donors to buy air time for as little as $50. The group also has a website that headlines: “If abortion is made illegal the woman having one will be a criminal. How much time should she do?” (Usually, the answer in anti-abortion legislation is no time at all; the doctors are prosecuted and the woman is considered a victim.)

The organization was incorporated this year by board members of New York’s NARAL. It was formed as the advocacy arm of the National Institute for Reproductive Health, an affiliate of NARAL NY. Kelli Conlin is the president of all three groups.

Another pro-Democratic group is trying a different tack: reassuring evangelical voters about Obama. The political action committee Matthew 25 Network has a radio ad starring Rep. Tony Hall, a pro-life Democrat from the swing state of Ohio, who served in Congress and was appointed an ambassador by President Bush.

After the ad quotes from scripture, Hall says Obama will work for families hurt by the economy. “As a child, Barack knew hard times too,” he says. “He had to rely on food stamps to get by. And as a Christian, Barack believes God calls us to care for those in need.”

The PAC’s director, Mara Vanderslice, was director of religious outreach for Democrat John Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign. The group, which previously ran a TV ad and other radio pieces, has reported raising $45,000 from April through June of this year.

And one more message of faith-based politics due to hit the airwaves next week: The Knights of Columbus has this radio spot urging pro-life voters to vote their beliefs on Election Day. There’s no mention of any candidates.

Knights of Columbus vice president for communications Patrick Korten says the ad will go out with “a pretty significant buy” nationwide. Its tone suggests it’s aimed at Christian stations.

The ads come days after the K of C criticized Democratic vice presidential nominee Joe Biden, a Catholic, for remarks he made about Catholic teachings on abortion. Biden said on Meet The Press that the question of when life begins is “a personal and private issue,” and [that] while he opposes abortion, his beliefs shouldn’t be legislated and enforced on others.

An open letter to Biden from Supreme Knight Carl Anderson calls Biden’s remarks “a major topic of concern” in the campaign. The letter ran today in the Washington Times, USA Today regional edition for Washington, the Wilmington News-Journal in Biden’s home state of Delaware, and, in the swing state next door, the Philadelphia Inquirer and papers in Wilkes-Barre and Scranton.

Korten said the ad cost about $35,000. It’s not the start of a series of open letters to candidates, he said, just “a function of Biden, a Catholic layman, getting on TV and saying what he said about Catholic teaching, which was flat-out wrong.”

— Will Evans and Peter Overby


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