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Planners of the New Baptist Covenant celebration have worked hard to downplay any political aspects of the meeting, though they have constantly been accused of having a political agenda. It hasn’t helped that presidential candidate Mike Huckabee and Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, notable Republicans who had agreed to speak, decided to back out of their commitments.

Planners of a joint meeting of four National Baptist Conventions were far less squeamish about inviting political candidates to speak during the closing session of their meeting. Charles Shaw, president of the National Baptist Convention, USA, said all of the presidential candidates were invited to attend the meeting and speak.

None of the Republican candidates responded, he said. The two candidates who did choose to address the meeting were Barak Obama and Hillary Clinton.

Obama spoke first, via a video link from California, where he was campaigning. The audio quality was poor, so I missed a lot of what he said. The word I did hear – again and again – was the word “hope.”

Obama said he’s often asked why he’s running this year rather than waiting until later. He said he didn’t think the country could afford for him to wait.

“We’ve seen the power of hope throughout this campaign,” he said, and obviously he hopes that people will put their hopes in him.

Obama closed with a promise to pray for the National Baptists.

Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, appeared in person and began with a conversation about prayer. Clinton noted that she was raised Methodist but is married to a Baptist, so she understands the Baptist proclivity to healthy disagreements.

Clinton said she was raised as a person of prayer, and remains a woman of prayer. If she hadn’t been a praying person, she said, the first week in the White House would have made her one.

Both candidates were greeted warmly, though neither drew the kind of overwhelming enthusiasm they might have hoped for, perhaps because the audience seemed to have high appreciation for both of them.

Both are praying, I suspect, that the favor meter will swing their way before Super Tuesday.

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