OREM — Mitt Romney will win presidential primaries in Iowa and New Hampshire, but to become president, he will need to overcome negative perceptions about his faith, issue "flip-flopping" and a too-good-to-be-true persona.

So predicts Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who said he supports Romney, the former Massachusetts governor and Salt Lake Winter Olympics chief.

Hatch took questions Tuesday morning for 90 minutes from students at Utah Valley State College.

"Mitt is going to have to have his John F. Kennedy moments," Hatch said, referring to a 1960 speech in which Kennedy, a Catholic, said he believed in an America where no public official requests or accepts instruction on public policy from the pope or any other ecclesiastical source.

Earlier this year, Romney — a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — told the Deseret Morning News he hasn't made up his mind about a so-called "JFK speech."

"I'd like to, but we'll see," he said. "I'd like to talk about all sorts of interesting topics, but sometimes that's a good idea and sometimes it's not."

Hatch, who is also LDS, told students, "There is a very sad misunderstanding about the Mormon Church in this country," he said. "Some people believe the Mormon Church is still practicing polygamy."

Hatch described other problems people have with the LDS Church. For example, some evangelical Christians are offended by the LDS Church's aggressive missionary program. Some also label the LDS Church as "non-Christian" because its doctrine doesn't always match up with mainstream Christian doctrine. And others are afraid a Romney presidency would be controlled by LDS Church leaders in Salt Lake City.

"I have yet to have anyone in the hierarchy of the Mormon Church say, 'You have to do this and you have to do that,"' said Hatch, a 30-year veteran of the U.S. Senate and one-time Republican candidate for president who dropped out of the race in 1999.

In addition to overcoming perceptions about his faith, Romney is going to have to address perceptions of "flip-flopping," Hatch said.

People see Romney as inconsistent with his position on abortion, which he supported as governor but now opposes as a presidential candidate.

Romney's greatest strength is his "financial genius," Hatch said, crediting Romney with turning around the balance sheets of the 2002 Winter Games and Massachusetts state government.

Hard decisions need to be made about Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, Hatch said. "I think we need a financial genius in this country for the next eight years, for the near future," he said.

Hatch predicts Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., will be the Democratic presidential nominee. Clinton is hard-working and smart, Hatch said. She also is intimidated by Romney's squeaky-clean reputation.

"People cannot believe anybody in politics can be as good as he really is, decent and honest as he really is. ... That's why the Clintons really don't want him to win (the Republican nomination)," Hatch said.

In addition to the presidential race, Hatch also discussed the civil war in the Darfur region of Sudan — he doesn't believe the United States is doing enough to help the victims; his work on a bill to renew the Children's Health Insurance Program — which he hopes will pass; and the situation in Iraq — bleak but improving.


Contributing: Lisa Riley Roche

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