Barack Obama says his Christian faith will help him reach white evangelicals who traditionally vote Republican, but some religious leaders are resisting the call.
"I think he's deliberately distorting the traditional understanding of the Bible to fit his own world view, his own confused ideology," James Dobson, leader of the Christian group Focus on the Family, said Tuesday in his daily radio show.
Dobson spent much of his show picking apart a 2006 speech from Obama, D-Ill., on why liberals and conservatives need to be more tolerant about faith.
"I can't simply point to the teachings of my church, or evoke God's will. I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all," Obama said in that speech.
Dobson called that a "fruitcake interpretation of the Constitution," but Obama, in exclusive comments to ABC News on Tuesday, insisted Dobson is misrepresenting his words.
"I have no idea what he's referring to. Anybody who's read that speech will tell you that I extol the need for people with religious faith to express their views in the public square, and I don't interpret the Bible in the ways he's referring to," Obama said.
"Either he didn't read the speech or he's just trying to score political points, and either way, I don't think it's a particularly useful way to talk about these issues," Obama told ABC News.
Obama is not polling any better with white evangelical Protestants now than Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., did in 2004.
In a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., led in the group 68-22 percent; in 2004 election exit polls, President George W. Bush won that group 78-21 over Kerry.
Despite those numbers, Obama has said he is trying to reach out.
"Even if they may not end up supporting my candidacy, I want to make sure people know I'm listening to them and I'm a person of faith," Obama said in an interview.
The Obama camp, from the beginning of his campaign, has reached out to people of faith, with an emphasis on younger evangelicals, holding hundreds of town hall meetings and house parties, and having Obama often talk about his faith on the stump.
It is, the Obama camp insists, the most outreach to the white evangelical community that a presumptive Democratic nominee has engaged in since then-Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter in 1976.
"Obama is making a very concerted effort to try and win over evangelicals that Democrats haven't (won) in a long time," said Stephen Waldman of Beliefnet.com.
And McCain has always had an uneasy relationship with evangelical leaders.
Stephen Mansfield, the evangelical author of the 2004 bestseller "The Faith of George W. Bush" -- who is now writing "The Faith of Barack Obama "-- says this Democrat has an opening.
"He's savvy with the evangelicals, he understands the language," Mansfield said.
And liberal Christian leaders, such as Jim Wallis, insist the movement itself is changing.
"Poverty is now on the agenda for evangelicals -- the environment, climate change is on the agenda," Wallis said.
One other blessing from this outreach -- it allows Obama to combat rumors by openly proclaiming his Christian faith -- a persistent problem in the campaign.
Obama's dust-up with Dobson is not the first time Obama has been embroiled in a faith-related controversy.