Pope Benedict XVI did not expect to fly into an America still captivated by a heated election, but his arrival in Washington comes just a week before a crucial Democratic primary and amid increasingly heated general election rhetoric.
Catholics make up about a quarter of all voters in the United States, and white Catholics in particular have been a key swing group in presidential elections going back to 1972 (when modern exit polling began). White Catholics have opted for the winner in all nine of the last presidential contests, sharing that distinction with political independents.
The new Washington Post-ABC News poll offers a glimpse at their views on this year's contest.
John McCain holds a slight edge over either Democratic nominee among white Catholics in the new poll, besting Hillary Clinton 54 percent to 44 percent, and topping Obama by a similar margin, 53 percent to 42 percent.
More than nine in 10 white Catholics in the new poll said they are paying close attention to the presidential contest, and economy and the situation in Iraq are their top two concerns for the general election (those are also tops for other Americans).
The pope hosts his first public mass in the United States today, and white Catholics are split on whether they prefer the pontiff to maintain the traditional policies of the Church or change policies to reflect the attitudes and lifestyles of Catholics today. And core concerns of the Vatican are low on the top issues list of Catholic voters - just one percent said abortion is their top issue in the November election, and less than 1 percent cited morals or family values.