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Seeking to unite GOP base, Romney will deliver Liberty commencement

Published: Saturday, April 21 2012 12:07 p.m. MDT

Republican presidential candidate former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

Paul Sancya, Associated Press

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Liberty University — the evangelical-affiliated institution founded by the late Jerry Falwell that is celebrating "40 years of training champions for Christ" — announced Thursday that Mitt Romney will speak at the school's commencement ceremony on May 12.

Much of the media analysis stemming from the announcement couches Romney's commitment to speak at Liberty University as a stragtegic move intended to unite Republicans at the time when his campaign machine is transitioning into general election mode. Politico's Maggie Haberman called it "the latest step in Mitt Romney's courtship with the conservative, evangelical base," while the Wall Street Journal observed, "Mr. Romney’s decision … seeks to heal any lingering wounds with conservatives, particularly evangelical Christians, in the wake of the party’s long, bruising primary."

The Boston Globe, which provided some of the most thorough and nuanced coverage of Thursday's developments, acknowledged the reality that Romney's scheduled appearance at an evangelical institution like Liberty University will spark all kinds of dialogue about his own faith in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

"The speech at Liberty University on May 12 will allow Romney to make both overt and subtle outreach to evangelicals and other social conservatives suspicious of his faith, and who typically did not make him their first choice in the primary," Glen Johnson wrote for the Globe. "It also is sure to renew focus on his own religious beliefs — he is vying to be the first Mormon elected president — as well as the checkered history of Falwell and Liberty in Republican politics."

Romney wasn't the only one making media waves with the announcement. Scores of evangelical students at Liberty protested online when the news broke that Romney would be the keynote commencement speaker on May 12.

"By Friday morning," CNN's religion blog reported, "more than 700 comments had been posted on the school's Facebook page about the Thursday announcement — a majority of them decidedly against the Chancellor Jerry Falwell Jr.’s invitation, citing that the school had taught them Mormonism isn’t part of the Christian faith."

Liberty student Janet Loeffler, 53, voiced her anger in a CNN interview that the university invited Romney to come to commencement. She also sent CNN "a copy of the page of the textbook Liberty provides freshmen — 'The Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics' — which includes the passage, 'Mormon doctrine stands in stark contrast to Jewish and Christian monotheism.'"

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