If religion is a top-tier issue for Republican voters, somebody forgot to tell the party's top contenders.
Among the White House hopefuls, the Democratic candidates are talking more about their faith -- and engaging in more early outreach to religious voters -- than Republicans are.
It marks a major shift from 2000 and 2004, when George W. Bush peppered his speeches with religious references and talked openly about his personal beliefs.
"It is amazing: You have Democrats as evangelicals, and Republicans behaving as secularists," said David Kuo, who was deputy director of President Bush's faith-based office during Bush's first term.
"In running away from Bush, it's as if the Republicans have decided they can't talk about religion," Kuo said. "They are treating the electorate essentially as a secular electorate, which is just fascinating."
The dynamic could harm Republican turnout in a year that the GOP can hardly afford to lose any of its base voters. The shift has prompted concerns by some Republicans that conservative and religious voters could choose not to vote next fall.
While Bush found a way to connect with religious voters by talking about his faith in a highly personal context, the current crop of Republican contenders is not nearly as comfortable talking up faith, said Clyde Wilcox, a Georgetown political science professor and author of "Onward Christian Soldiers? The Religious Right in American Politics."
"What Bush was especially talented at doing was talking about religion in a way that unified people by just saying how religion made him feel," Wilcox said.
"There's no Republican candidate that can do the unifying message the way that Bush does. ... And that makes it hard for evangelicals to really get excited and turn out."
The GOP reticence to talk religion stems in part from the backgrounds of the major candidates.
The national front-runner, former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani, once aspired to be a priest, but after two divorces and various personal dramas, he demurs when asked on the campaign trail about his faith.
Some social conservative leaders have even threatened to support a third-party candidate if Giuliani gets the Republican nomination, citing his support for abortion rights and gay rights.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is trying to become the nation's first Mormon president, and is deeply religious himself. But while he's been asked pointed questions about the tenets of his religion, he has so far resisted calls for a major public address laying out how his faith might affect the way he'd govern.
"He has a good bit of work to do to try to overcome that skepticism about his faith," said John C. Green, a senior fellow at the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.
Former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson was seen as the great hope of many religious and conservative leaders before he got in the race last month. But he's been something of a disappointment as a candidate, and he conceded shortly after declaring his candidacy that he doesn't attend church regularly.
James Dobson, one of the nation's most politically influential evangelical Christians, has said he would not support Thompson for the Republican nomination and has accused him of being wrong on issues dear to social conservatives.