As the last major primary state for the Democratic Party presidential contest and a contested state in the general election, Pennsylvania Catholics could play a key role in determining the presidential race.
The Bulletin reports that there are nearly 3.8 million Catholics in the state, 31 percent of the total population.
"While a candidate cannot win on the Catholic vote alone, there is no doubt Pennsylvania Catholics are a key swing vote candidates must understand," said Kathy Coll, a Catholic who is president of the Pro-Life Coalition. "No politician can win if they have upset the Catholic apple cart."
Some observers see an internal struggle taking place in American Catholicism as believers try to reconcile their religious and moral duties with their involvement in both political parties.
Most Catholics have traditionally supported the Democratic Party.
"Irish Catholics go back to the party when it was the party of the little guy," explained Coll. She thinks that has changed, saying the Democratic Party is "now the party that kicks the little guy." She said her vote was contingent on a candidate’s support for pro-life issues.
“What rights have any value if you do not have the right to life?" she asked. "Only if you are 100 percent pro-life will I look to other issues."
Coll referenced Senator Obama’s regrets about supporting the Senate’s move to save the life of Terry Schiavo, the disabled woman whose feeding tube was removed by court order. She died of dehydration soon afterward.
Pepperdine University Constitutional law professor Douglas Kmiec, who served under both the Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations, has endorsed Democratic candidate Senator Barack Obama. Kmiec accused the presidency of George W. Bush of distorting the presidential office “beyond its constitutional assignment.” Kmiec said that though he differs with Obama on social issues, he said the Illinois senator “is not closed to understanding opposing points of view and, as best as it is humanly possible, he will respect and accommodate them.”
William Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, has questioned Obama’s past legislative record on pro-life issues.
"In 2003, while chairman of the Health and Human Services Committee of the Illinois Senate, he led the fight to oppose a bill that would have mandated health care for a baby who survived an abortion," Donohue said.
Pennsylvania Catholics presently favor New York Senator Hillary Clinton over Senator Obama in the Democratic primary, which will be held on April 22.