After baring their souls in a live television confessional, top Democratic White House hopefuls have put Republicans on notice that religious voters are up for grabs.
Senator Hillary Clinton, the party's 2008 front-runner, candidly revealed at a forum on religion and politics Monday that but for her faith, she might not have made it through ex-president Bill Clinton's infidelity.
Her rival, ex-senator John Edwards told how the searing anguish of losing a teenaged son in a car accident brought his lapsed faith "roaring back."
And Senator Barack Obama declared "I am my brother's keeper, I am my sister's keeper," testifying that his politics were grounded in faith.
The remarkably candid forum, broadcast live by CNN and co-hosted by a progressive evangelical group, was the clearest sign yet that Democrats will refuse to concede the religious vote in 2008 to Republicans.
Evangelicals and the mighty "religious right" movement have been carefully courted by the Republicans, and credited with helping power President George W. Bush to two terms in office.
Pulpit politics in America came under renewed scrutiny after exit polls suggested that voters prioritizing "moral issues" may have swung the 2004 election to Bush over Democratic challenger John Kerry.
A national exit poll after the election found that 59 percent of Protestants and 52 percent of Roman Catholics voted for Bush, along with 78 percent of evangelicals and 61 percent of people who go to church weekly.
Roman Catholic Kerry was reticent, like many Democrats, about speaking openly about religion, and only reluctantly and awkwardly addressed his faith in the closing days of his unsuccessful campaign.
But this year's crop of candidates served notice Monday they will not make the same mistake, in a nation which wears its religion on its sleeve, and have learned to speak the language of the Church.
Clinton spoke openly about how her faith sustained her during the public anguish of her husband's affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.
"I am not sure I would have gotten through it without my faith," she said, in the forum hosted by the Soujourners organization and CNN.
"I have been tested in ways that are both publicly known and those that are not so well known, or not known at all," Clinton said.
"I am very grateful that I had a grounding in faith that gave me the courage and the strength to do what I thought was right. Regardless of what the world thought, and that's all one can expect or hope for."
Edwards said religion helped him rebuild his life after teenaged son Wade perished in a freak car crash in 1996 and is a comfort as his wife battles incurable cancer.
"I strayed away from the Lord for a period of time … my faith came roaring back during some crises that my family was faced with."
"When Elizabeth and I lost our son, we were non-functional for a period of time, it was the Lord that got me through that."
Obama, vying to be America's first black president, came across with the air of a preacher, as he detailed how social policy was grounded in the his faith.
"I am my brother's keeper, I am my sister's keeper, … we are connected as a people," Obama said.
"I've got a stake in other people. And I've got a set of responsibilities towards others, not just towards myself."
The forum in Washington was organized by Jim Wallis, an evangelical minister and anti-poverty campaigner, who wrote the 2005 New York Times bestseller "God's Politics."
The book asked "since when did believing in God and having moral values make you pro-war, pro-rich and pro-Republican?"
In a 2005 interview with AFP, Wallis warned "if Democrats just talk policy and don't talk about moral issues, they are going to keep on losing."
But the fledgling "religious left" movement must battle the conservative Christian establishment, which boasts television stations, newswires and a direct line to the Republican White House.
Since most Democrats don't favor banning abortion, they must also finesse an issue which is a priority to many religious voters, particularly conservatives.
But questions are increasingly being asked about whether the religious right, which has its heydey in the 1980s, possesses the power it once did, and whether in 2008, religious conservatives dismayed with their presidential choices may not vote — in a movement that would aid Democrats.