James Hudnut-Beumler, Professor of American Religious History and dean of Vanderbilt Divinity School speaks of religion and politics in the US. This lecture is available on UC podcast. All American presidents were religious. Thomas Jefferson even spent what little free time he had, studying various Bible versions and comparing the gospels, attempting to get to the heart of Jesus's message. (Hey, that reminds me of the immensely interesting series about the Historical Jesus, Professor Thomas Sheehan.) Just an example and an alebiet superfluous reminder American Presidents invariably are Christians.
They are mostly protestant at that. John F. Kennedy had some explaining to do, since he was a Roman Catholic, when he was a candidate. These days, Professor Hudnut-Beumler explains, more than ever candidates are to emphasize and elaborate on their religiosity. This is not just the fate of the Mormon candidate Mitt Romney. It seems religion is more than ever perceived to be important in politics.
Professor Hudnut-Beumler hastens to emphasize that we deal with election politics here. When the election hubbub is over, he seems to argue - and he quotes JFK - we are back to realpolitik and back to hard issues. But with a president such as George W. Bush, how sure can you be religion plays no part their. After 8 years of Bush, whomever is going to be next, he - or she, Hillary Clinton - will have some heritage to deal with, including the religious weight issues have gotten. So has the public, maybe.