WASHINGTON In an echo of John F. Kennedy's election-eve address on Catholicism 47 years ago, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney sought to allay concerns Thursday over his Mormon faith before an audience of invited guests at the George Bush Presidential Library in College Station, Texas.
Without delving into the specifics of Mormon doctrine, Mr. Romney invoked the Founding Fathers in asserting the nation's religious underpinnings, called for religious tolerance, and highlighted the "common creed of moral convictions" within the varied theologies of American churches.
And, just as the future President Kennedy promised in 1960 that he would not accept instruction from the pope, Romney promised that as president he would answer to "no one religion."
"When I place my hand on the Bible and take the oath of office, that oath becomes my highest promise to God," Romney said. "If I am fortunate to become your president, I will serve no one religion, no one group, no one cause, and no one interest. A president must serve only the common cause of the people of the United States."
Romney also referenced Article 6 of the Constitution, which states that "no religious test" shall ever be required as a qualification for office.
"There are some who would have a presidential candidate describe and explain his church's distinctive doctrines," Romney said. "To do so would enable the very religious test the founders prohibited in the Constitution. No candidate should become the spokesman for his faith. For if he becomes president he will need the prayers of the people of all faiths."
The speech comes after months of debate within the Romney campaign over the wisdom of such a move. The Republican candidate has faced persistent reservations by a significant portion of the GOP electorate to voting for a Mormon for president.
He had hoped not to have to deliver such a speech, but decided last week that he should. Romney would have preferred to let his success in business and government, and in turning around the 2002 Olympics, in addition to his picture-perfect family, speak for itself. By waiting until this point in the campaign less than a month before the first nominating contest, the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses he is guaranteed major public attention to his address. But if it backfires, by making Mormonism an even bigger issue, he could damage his political prospects.
Analysts widely assume that the Romney campaign's internal polls indicate that voter resistance to Mormonism was hurting his bid for the GOP nomination, particularly in Iowa, where Evangelicals make up a significant portion of the Republican base. Romney has staked his nomination bid on winning the crucial early contests, first Iowa, then New Hampshire, and has campaigned heavily in both states. For months, polls of likely caucusgoers in Iowa showed Romney winning in Iowa, but in recent weeks, a surge in support for former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee an ordained Baptist preacher and an Evangelical has left the race in a dead heat. Romney remains ahead in New Hampshire, which has a small Evangelical population.
Romney has faced questions about his Mormon faith almost from the moment he entered the 2008 presidential race last January. Some major religious groups in America, such as the Southern Baptists, do not consider Mormons to be Christian, because they do not hold to their view of the Holy Trinity and because they have scriptures separate from the Bible, such as the Book of Mormon. During the campaign, some Evangelicals have objected to Romney's use of Christian terminology, such as when Romney refers to Jesus Christ as "my savior" or "the savior of the world."
Mormons reject that argument, noting that the full name of their church The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints contains the words "Jesus Christ" for a reason.
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