Bush spoke briefly, and graciously, made the ritual promise of reaching out, and soon was speeding away. Paul Schenck, a pastoral associate with Gospel of Life Ministries who has spoken to tens of thousands of people in hundreds of churches, explained why he and others are so focused on marriage.
"The Democratic Party stands for, by and large, the dismantling of marriage as we've known it as a civilization," he said.
He said this without rancor. This was common sense.
"Marriage has only been between a man and a woman," he said. "When you toy with the sanctity of that institution -- as ancient, as primordial, as it is -- you are shaking the core of a community."
His friend Mark Garrett, 41, a pastor of a small, interdenominational church in southwest Ohio -- a congregation of about 200 people, most of them blue-collar workers -- said the Democrats never grasped the passions aroused by the marriage debate.
"They felt it was almost an affront to their faith," he said.
Kerry repeatedly said he opposed gay marriage, but favored civil unions. Kerry also opposed a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. His positions were nuanced. Bush's weren't. That made a difference.
Some people, Garrett said, were also skeptical about Kerry's recent trips to churches and his decision to talk more about his own faith. It seemed opportunistic. It was as though Kerry was trying to "use" the church, Garrett said.
Schenck agreed. He said of Kerry, "I'm not going to question his soul, but if he was trying to connect, it was too little, too late."
Staff writer Hanna Rosin contributed to this report.