COLUMBIA, S.C. Republican Mitt Romney dismissed questions about whether Mormon faith would be an impediment to his White House aspirations, echoing the argument that voters will be choosing a president not a pastor.
The former Massachusetts governor faced questions about his faith in this Bible Belt state where a few Republicans expressed deep reservations about backing a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Romney said he was making inroads with the GOP in this early voting state.
"I've had a number of meetings with pastors of various faiths and religious leaders," Romney said in an interview with The Associated Press. "Almost to a person they've subscribed to what Dr. Richard Land (of the Southern Baptist Convention) said, which was: 'We're not electing Mitt Romney as pastor in chief."'
Romney added: "In the early days of an acquaintance between a candidate and the electorate, the focus is on the personal, social issues and then it changes to be a focus on the major critical issues of the day."
That failed to sway Republican State Rep. Gloria Haskins.
"I don't think that I could see someone who is a member of a faith so contrary to my faith having my support," said Haskins, a graduate of Bob Jones University, the Christian fundamentalist college. Haskins is backing Sen. John McCain of Arizona.
In September, Charleston County GOP chairwoman Cyndi Mosteller questioned Romney after a speech, asking him to explain his faith.
On Tuesday, Mosteller, who is a Baptist, said, "The question is: Does Governor Romney support Joseph Smith's doctrines? We as evangelicals don't believe we can go in and change Paul's doctrine. I don't see how you move around this."
Romney said he is making inroads with Christian conservatives.
"I've been very encouraged so far," he said. "People have been willing to endorse my efforts."
Romney attended a House Republican Caucus meeting that always begins with a Bible verse and prayer in Christ's name, led by Republican state Rep. Bob Leach.
Leach told caucus members he asked Romney who Jesus Christ was and Romney responded that Christ "was his personal savior."
Leach said that was good enough to earn his vote.