TODAY   |  September 29, 2010

Obama tells voters ‘I am a Christian by choice’

With his approval ratings stuck below 50 percent and many Americans still believing he is a Muslim, President Obama made it a point to discuss his faith during a backyard conversation with voters in New Mexico. NBC’s Savannah Guthrie reports.

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ANN CURRY, anchor: Today the president speaks out on the economy in Iowa and Virginia , while at the same time trying to re-energize his base. NBC 's White House correspondent Savannah Guthrie is in Washington with more on this. Savannah , good morning.

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE reporting: Good morning, Ann. Well, the president proved last night in Wisconsin he can still pack tens of thousands of young people into an arena. The question is: Can he get them to the polls? Trying to fire up the old campaign magic, the president at the University of Wisconsin at Madison Tuesday night.

President BARACK OBAMA: We cannot sit this one out . We can't let this country fall backwards because the rest of us didn't care enough to fight. The stakes are too high for our country and for your future. And I am going to get out there and fight as hard as I can and I know you are, too.

GUTHRIE: With voter turnout potentially making the difference in tight races, the Democratic National Committee is spending $50 million to get Obama '08 voters to show up in 2010 . The latest NBC News / Wall Street Journal poll shows the race for Congress tightening. Republicans know hold a three-point lead over Democrats among likely voters, down from a nine-point lead last month. The president's approval rating still stuck at 46 percent.

GUTHRIE: In Albuquerque on Tuesday at a backyard conversation with voters, the president fielded questions on everything from the economy to his faith.

Pres. OBAMA: You know, I'm a Christian by choice. My mother was one of the most spiritual people I knew, but she didn't raise me in the church. I think also understanding that, you know, that Jesus Christ dying for my sins spoke to the humility we all have to have as human beings.

GUTHRIE: Meanwhile, a shakeup looms here at the White House . The chief of staff Rahm Emanuel could be gone within days to run for mayor of Chicago . The president hasn't yet decided on a successor, but it's likely to be an insider.