ONE OF THE most stunning developments in the midterm elections is how Democrats pulled religious voters back into the fold - without pandering on issues where people of faith know the party just doesn't agree with them.

According to Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, in each of the seats the Democrats picked up in the Senate, Catholic voters came back to the party in droves. The shift was most dramatic in Ohio, where Sen. Mike DeWine lost 42 percent of Catholics who voted for him in 2000, but the shift was pronounced in other states, too. Rick Santorum lost 25 percent to Bob Casey, George Allen of Virginia lost 16 percent and Montana's Conrad Burns lost 11 percent.

And on CNN, self-proclaimed moralist Bill Bennett said that in Virginia, 40 percent of evangelical Christians voted for Senate challenger Jim Webb.

So what gives? In none of the Senate races did Democrats play up religion, or harp on gay marriage or abortion, or any other conservative touchstones. In fact, Sherrod Brown, who beat DeWine in Ohio, is one of the most progressive people in Congress.

The key is that, finally, the Democrats who won realized that they had more in common with people of faith than differences, so there was no need to fake it on the hot button issues.

Brown, for example, ran as an economic populist, was anti-corruption, against the war in Iraq, for a responsible environmental policy. Here in Pennsylvania, Casey could have run as a social conservative, but didn't, choosing to run on those same issues.

In Virginia, Webb ran strongly against the war (and he let Allen successfully portray himself as a buffoon). In Montana, where Republican Burns was singed on ethical issues, Jon Tester ran as an ethical populist.

Evangelicals turned out in force in Missouri to vote on the stem-cell research issue, and that didn't stop Claire McCaskill from pulling out a win over Jim Talent. McCaskill ran strong on the war and "kitchen table issues" like health-care affordability.

Interestingly, the one place where Democrats might have won but didn't was Tennessee. Democratic Rep. Harold Ford Jr. didn't run on populist economic issues, or the environment, but instead spent most of his time talking about his faith, and his opposition to gay marriage and partial-birth abortion. When the exit polling is analyzed, I suspect that most of the religious vote ended up going to the winner, Bob Corker.

WASHINGTON Democrats should take this lesson to heart - people of faith largely have the same concerns as everyone else.

They want to care for the poor and underprivileged. They want to be stewards of the earth. Religious people want peace on earth.

And, most of the time, they will vote for someone they disagree with on some social issues as long as that candidate is strong on the issues that matter most.

The idea that Democrats need to quote scripture and run away from populist issues is a great canard that has been pushed by so-called centrist Democrats for the last 12 years. Not surprisingly, in each and every one of those years, Democrats lost. This year, finally choosing a new course, buoyed by the populist netroots, Democrats won, and won big.

It's been a long time coming, but Democrats finally learned a simple truth. When it comes to people of faith, we ain't any different than you.

Flavia Colgan is a member of the Daily News editorial board and an MSNBC commentator. Check out her blog, CitizenHunter, at