Romney's talk of his faith doesn't ease other fears
Published December 7, 2007
WASHINGTON - Mitt Romney's religion is only part of his problem. A bigger threat to his Republican presidential candidacy, advisers say, is a record of policy flip-flops and nagging doubts about his credibility.
And so Romney's highly anticipated address Thursday was as much about his character as his Mormonism. He used an intensely personal issue - his religion - to address voters' concerns about his authenticity and integrity, about the strength of his convictions.
No single speech is likely to fix such a big concern.
Though he spoke for 20 minutes, he mentioned the word "Mormon" a single time, referring at other times to his faith or his church.
"If I am fortunate to become your president, I will serve no one religion, no one group, no one cause and no one interest," Romney declared. "A president must serve only the common cause of the people of the United States."
Still, in his address at the library of the first President George Bush in College Station, Texas, he also called for a deepening link between faith and political life. He criticized what he called "the religion of secularism" that he said was creeping into American life.
There was intense debate inside the campaign about whether to deliver a religion address. In the end, with former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee threatening his lead in Iowa, Romney and his advisers agreed that beyond explaining or defending his faith, he needed a high-profile event to show that he has a moral and political core - that he's not somebody who will say or do anything to get elected.
Thus, he mentioned the word "Mormon" just once, and that was a promise not to run from his faith.
"Americans do not respect believers of convenience," Romney said. "Americans tire of those who would jettison their beliefs, even to gain the world."
This from a man who campaigned for governor of Democratic-leaning Massachusetts as a supporter of abortion rights, gay rights and gun control - only to switch sides on those and other issues in time for the GOP presidential race. The first thing he did as a presidential contender in January was sign the same no-tax pledge an aide dismissed as "government by gimmickry" during the 2002 campaign.
"The Romney strategy with the speech appeared to be to try to kill two birds with one stone - to placate voters who are apprehensive about him as a Mormon or as a flip-flopper," said Costas Panagopoulos, a political scientist at Fordham University.
"But I am not convinced he was successful in doing either," Panagopoulos said. "At the end of the day, it is very difficult to change voters' pre-existing beliefs, and it would probably take a much more powerful speech than the one Romney delivered today."
Romney's advisers are appropriately concerned about the fact that some voters will not consider a Mormon for president, but they've concluded that nothing Romney can do will wipe away such bigotry. In a way, Thursday's address may actually make that worse by drawing attention to the religious problem, they said.
Among the other candidates, five are Roman Catholic, four are Baptist, two are Methodist, one is Episcopalian, one is Presbyterian and one describes himself simply as Christian.
Joe Biden: Roman Catholic
Hillary Rodham Clinton: Methodist
Christopher Dodd: Catholic
John Edwards: Methodist
Dennis Kucinich: Catholic
Barack Obama: Christian
Bill Richardson: Catholic
Rudy Giuliani: Catholic
Duncan Hunter: Baptist
Mike Huckabee: Southern Baptist
John McCain: Episcopalian
Ron Paul: Baptist
Tom Tancredo: Presbyterian
Fred Thompson: Southern Baptist
[Last modified December 7, 2007, 02:20:37]
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