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Evangelical vote in battleground states key for Mitt Romney

Published: Thursday, Aug. 27 2015 4:17 p.m. MDT

Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney gestures while speaking at a campaign event at Wisconsin Products Pavilion at State Fair Park, Friday, Nov. 2, 2012, in West Allis, Wis. (David Goldman, Associated Press) Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney gestures while speaking at a campaign event at Wisconsin Products Pavilion at State Fair Park, Friday, Nov. 2, 2012, in West Allis, Wis. (David Goldman, Associated Press)

In Mitt Romney's quest to secure the battleground states of Ohio, Virginia and Florida, Billy Graham's endorsement can't hurt.

Neither can Richard Land's endorsement. Land is the policy director of the Southern Baptist Convention, an erstwhile Romney detractor. This is the first time he has publicly endorsed a presidential candidate, and that includes the openly evangelical George W. Bush.

During the primary, Land was a Romney detractor based on religious differences, arguing that he was not a Christian, and, in an interview with NewsMax, comparing Mormonism to Islam.

But it did not take him long to pivot. By April, he had told the Daily Caller that Romney would have no problem with the evangelical vote, focusing particularly on Obama's hot mic moment when he told a Russian official he would have "more flexibility" after the election.

Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney waves to supporters before speaking during a campaign event at Wisconsin Products Pavilion at State Fair Park, Friday, Nov. 2, 2012, in West Allis, Wis. (David Goldman, Associated Press) Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney waves to supporters before speaking during a campaign event at Wisconsin Products Pavilion at State Fair Park, Friday, Nov. 2, 2012, in West Allis, Wis. (David Goldman, Associated Press)

“I cannot tell you how important that Russia comment was because it feeds into the fears that evangelicals have that there is a radical inside Obama that is straining to get out and once he doesn’t have to ever face the voters again.”

Land's pivot comes as part of a larger package of what University of Virginia professor Larry Sabato calls a "shotgun wedding."

“Romney is counting on evangelicals. The irony is that this is a shotgun marriage between two very different religions but they are completely dependent upon one another for victory,” Sabato told the Boston Globe.

Land's endorsement does come with some baggage, the Huffington Post pointed out, including some recent missteps that led to his pending retirement from the SBC.

"They included racially charged comments that Land made on his radio show about the Trayvon Martin shooting case, as well as evidence that he was lifting some of his program scripts from other sources without attribution. The controversies resulted in an official reprimand, the loss of his radio talk show and led to the announcement of his retirement," The Huffington Post reported.

In compliance with Deseret News policy, comments will not be posted on political stories and editorials from now until the polls close Tuesday, Nov. 6.

Eric Schulzke writes on national politics for the Deseret News. He can be contacted at eschulzke@desnews.com.

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