In one of the most closely watched races in one of the most contested states on the battlefield, both gubernatorial candidates are touching on religion. But in a completely different way.

Republican Doug Mastriano’s campaign has several hallmarks of Christian nationalism, combining Christian and political imagery, words and rituals and promoting the belief that America was and should be a Christian nation.

Meanwhile, Democrat Josh Shapiro has been touting his Jewish faith in speeches and ads, saying it inspires him to serve in public as he seeks to build a classic Democratic coalition of black clergy and other progressive religious groups, including Christians and Jews, and non-religious.

“My faith grounds me and calls me to public service. I don’t use my faith to make policy decisions or exclude others like my opponent is doing,” Shapiro, now Pennsylvania’s attorney general, said in an interview.

Mastriano, a state senator, has rejected the label “Christian nationalist,” though his political events often resemble worship. It was introduced at a church event near Pittsburgh by a pastor who mixed Christian and political imagery: “Get ready for a big red wave of ‘Blood of Jesus’!”

At a campaign event in rural southwestern Pennsylvania, Mastriano stood at the front of the church, against the background of a large campaign sign and a tall cross.

The pastor laid hands on him in the usual Pentecostal custom and asked God for protection.

“We pray that you will give him courage and strength for what he is going to face,” the pastor said during the meeting at Crosspoint Assembly of God. “We pray against the darkness and the enemies that oppose it in the spiritual realm.”

Mastriano’s company did not respond to emailed requests for an interview. He has consistently ignored requests for comment from the Associated Press and many other media outlets.

At a recent church event, a campaign official told a reporter that Mastriano would not be answering questions. Mastriano claimed he “watched the various media making fun of our faith” during coverage of his main victory rally, which was peppered with worship music and Bible quotes. “There is no place for intolerance and bigotry in my company,” he said.

Shapiro and others dispute that because Mastriano’s company paid $5,000 for what it described in a financial disclosure form as “consulting” services to Geb… a social media site popular with white supremacists and anti-Semites. According to the authorities, it was in Gaba that the suspect announced his plans for 2018 massacre of 11 worshipers in the synagogue of the Tree of Life building in Pittsburgh. It was the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in US history.

Mastriano led the effort to overturn Pennsylvania’s 2020 vote for Joe Biden. He chartered buses to take Pennsylvanians to an open rally ahead of the Capitol uprising on January 6, 2021. According to a report by the Senate Judiciary Committee, he “broke through barricades and police lines.”

Both candidates appeal to opposing religious and ethnic demographics that have supported each side in recent campaigns, such as 2020 presidential election, when a majority of white Catholics and a large majority of white evangelical Christians voted Republican, while the Democrats drew on strong support from black Christians, Hispanics, Jews, Muslims, and people of no religion.

Several recent polls have shown Shapiro ahead of Mastriano.

A September poll by Franklin and Marshall College shows Shapiro and Mastriano leading even among Protestants and Catholics overall, while Shapiro leads among followers of no religion. The poll shows that Mastriano leads among Christians who consider themselves born-again or evangelical.

Mastriano “made no effort to soften” his tough stance on the electorate in the general election, said John Fea, a history professor at Messiah University in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, and author of “Trust Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.”

Mastriano takes a “black-and-white view of the world of spiritual warfare,” Fea said. “Anyone who criticizes him is the devil. I don’t mean that metaphorically. He truly believes that they are working for evil. … That’s what makes him so dangerous.”

Still, some evangelicals “might be disgusted by his (Mastriano’s) Christian nationalism, but can’t imagine voting for a right-wing candidate like Shapiro,” Fea said.

He said Shapiro seemed to contrast his broader view of religious freedom in a diverse population with Mastriano’s narrower view. Shapiro criticized Mastriano’s statement that “not all religions are equal.”

A Pew Research Center report released Thursday said 45 percent of American adults polled and 67 percent of Republicans believe the U.S. “should be a Christian nation,” though fewer want the federal government to officially declare itself Christian.

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Mastriano has spent much of his speech decrying rising crime, the current Democratic administration’s COVID-19 restrictions and the participation of transgender athletes in women’s sports. He called banning all abortions a top priority.

Shapiro said “my office is dedicated to protecting legal access to abortion in our commonwealth,” where abortion is legal up to the 23rd week of pregnancy.

Each candidate attracts supporters with a common understanding of the role of religion.

At Carmichaels Church, Mastriano spoke to a small but enthusiastic crowd on a September morning.

“I like the fact that he had the courage to (express) our religious values ​​and our freedoms in the Bill of Rights,” said Stephen Grugin of Dunkard Township. Speaking in church, he “tells people that he is very much in favor of freedom of speech, freedom of religion,” he said.

The Rev. Marshall Mitchell, senior pastor of Salem Baptist Church in Abington, Pa., who has known Shapiro for years, said Shapiro is “just as comfortable in a black Baptist church as he is in a conservative home, temple or mosque. Mitchell said. “He sees a common humanity that he believes originates from God.”