Before the 2006 mid-terms, there was plenty of speculation about what would happen with religious voters. The "God gap" that favored Republicans in previous contests was at risk, as concern grew of a demoralized religious right.

Last week, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life hosted an interesting conversation between two political faith activists on opposites sides of the divide: Eric Sapp, Senior Partner at Common Good Strategies (a group working to boost the faith vote for Democrats), and Charmaine Yoest, Vice President for Communications of the conservative Family Research Council.

The discussion was motivated by the volatile role values voters played in 2006. As the Washington Post reported:

[T]he national exit polls told a dramatic story of changing views in the pews: Democrats recaptured the Catholic vote they had lost two years ago. They sliced the GOP's advantage among weekly churchgoers to 12 percentage points, down from 18 points in 2004 congressional races and 22 points in the 2004 presidential contest. Democrats even siphoned off a portion of the Republican Party's most loyal base, white evangelical Protestants.

This backdrop makes the conversation between Sapp and Yoest worth the read. Their exchange, while including a fair amount of expected posturing, is also at times incisive and honest in its appraisal of where both parties stand with the "faith vote." For example, Sapp sees the Democrats as moving towards a faith strategy that's more authentic than in the past:

Instead of the old guard leadership saying, "We haven't talked about faith real well; let's poll it, figure out the message and get the talking points out," they lifted up from within their ranks the people for whom this was authentic, who had been pushing for a long time for better engagement on faith, saying, "You all know this; you take the reigns and lead."

Yoest also is fairly direct about why the religious right lost many of the supporters they had in 2004:

Both political parties need to understand it's a highly motivated constituency. The question is how are they going to vote? They are going to pay attention. We've said the values voters of 2004 were the integrity voters of 2006. They expect the people they elect to represent them and carry forward the issues they were elected on. We didn't see that as much as we would have liked.

Like many things, the 2006 election shook up the "values vote" -- an especially important shift in the South. A volatile religious voter constituency is one of many factors that will continue to make the South a very competitive region.