Salena Zito

Worry about eroding religious freedom could sway Catholic voters further away from President Barack Obama, and the Catholic voting bloc typically predicts the winner in presidential elections.

Yet, as conservatives continue to pound Obama in ads geared toward the faithful, some Catholics who care about the president's slip in polls plan to campaign for him on social media sites. Both sides, campaign strategists say, are trying to secure the important vote.

"Catholic voters are a critical and crucial part of winning the election," said Burns Strider, a Washington-based strategist the Democrats brought on to hold Catholic and evangelical voters after the 2004 election. Then, he said, "We were adrift ... in our mooring with a lot of our traditional constituencies."

The Obama campaign recently moved Michael Wear, an executive assistant in the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, to Chicago to become the campaign's faith vote director. Wear, 23, a Buffalo, N.Y. native, describes himself first as a Christian in his Twitter profile and often tweets about religion, politics and social issues.

"Religious liberty is becoming a major campaign issue as many Catholics, along with other Americans, are realizing that religious freedom and conscience protection can no longer be taken for granted," said Mary Ann Glendon, a Harvard law professor the former U.S. ambassador to the Holy See.

Glendon, who grew up in a family of Massachusetts Democrats, is registered independent and supports Republican nominee Mitt Romney. She said his "explicit promise" to reverse any regulation that restricts religious liberty is "reassuring."

Pete Flaherty, religious outreach director for Romney, said his campaign will try to reach Catholics individually, "diocese by diocese, parish by parish."

Romney, a Mormon, "stands shoulder to shoulder with the Catholic voter," said Flaherty, his longtime senior advisor. During GOP primaries, exit polls showed Romney won among Catholics in every state but Tennessee, and their vote decided close contests in Ohio and Michigan.

"Catholic voters will have a clear choice in this election, when it comes to protecting life, traditional marriage, and religious freedom and the recognition that economic growth lifts people out of poverty and provides them with the dignity of work," Flaherty said.

That message comes across in a YouTube video, "Test of Fire: Election 2012," that has attracted more than 1.5 million views since March. Though it doesn’t name either presidential candidate, the video appears alongside others promoting conservative values and opposing Obama, such as one titled "Obama mocks and attacks Jesus Christ."

Salena Zito

Salena Zito is a political analyst, reporter and columnist.