Sept. 24, 2006 -- Sen. Hillary Clinton has long been a favorite target for Republicans, so it's no surprise that at a summit this weekend for religious conservatives, the Rev. Jerry Falwell offered up some red meat.
"I hope she's the candidate," Falwell said, "because nothing will energize my [constituency] like Hillary Clinton."
He added, "If Lucifer ran, he wouldn't."
Today, Falwell said the comments were tongue-in-cheek, but the Clinton camp called them "vitriolic" and added "a new low has been reached in demonizing political opponents."
No matter who you believe, the larger point about the Republican Party's need to energize religious conservatives is hardly a joke.
In 2004, strong turnout by Christian voters incensed over gay marriage helped push George W. Bush over the top in key states. This year, there are signs some of that enthusiasm is waning.
"There is some very real concern about evangelical voters won't be as enthusiastic this year as they have been in the past," said John Green of the Pew Research Center.
For one thing, Democrats are making a concerted effort to close their party's God gap. Senate candidates like Harold Ford in Tennessee and Bob Casey in Pennsylvania are talking openly about faith. And two new organizations -- FaithfulDemocrats.com and Red Letter Christians -- are reaching out to religious voters from the left.
"If we don't pay more attention to poverty, we'll never solve problems of national security," said Red Letter Christians' Brian McLaren.
Christian conservative leaders say they welcome these efforts by Democrats. But they say the rhetoric doesn't always match reality when it comes to where the Democratic Party stands on key social issues.
"There is a disconnect between their talk and their walk, and people see that," said Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council.
Still, Democratic strategists say if they can get even a small number of religious voters to walk away from the Republican Party, it would be a significant step. It could be the difference between victory and defeat in November.