Republican Mitt Romney, still seen as a top contender for his party's vice-presidential nomination, will be campaigning in the shadow of the Democratic National Convention in Denver today on behalf of the GOP.
Romney is one of several well-known Republicans going to Colorado during this week's Democratic convention to stump for the GOP's presumptive presidential nominee, Sen. John McCain of Arizona.
Today, Romney will speak at a luncheon for reporters sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor and later, at a press conference at the Republican National Committee's "Not Ready '08 Response Center," set up about a mile from the Democrats' gathering.
Romney's appearances, announced Monday by his own "Free & Strong America" Political Action Committee, come after a group of evangelical conservatives asked McCain to choose a vice president more in line with their values than Romney.
The informal group of about 100 of the nation's evangelical Christian leaders met last month in Denver to talk about getting behind McCain, who has had problems with the conservative wing of his party.
They ended up backing former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, a Baptist minister, for vice president, according to meeting organizer Mathew Staver, founder of the conservative Liberty Counsel and dean of the Liberty University School of Law in Lynchburg, Va.
Staver told the Deseret News that while Romney was not discussed at the meeting as a potential pick, he and other evangelicals question his conservative credentials while some also have concerns about his Mormon faith.
Romney has been accused of becoming more conservative on abortion and other issues in recent years for political purposes. His member- ship in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is at issue because some evangelicals don't see him as a fellow Christian.
"There are going to be some that will have a lot of turmoil with a Romney vice presidency because of his religious views but also because he is not consistent," Staver said, in his pro-life and pro-family beliefs.
McCain isn't expected to announce his pick for the No. 2 spot on the GOP ticket until Friday at the earliest, after the Democrats formally nominate Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois as their presidential candidate and Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware as his running mate.
Much of the speculation over McCain's choice centers on Romney. A blogger for Time reported last week that McCain had settled on Romney, but the report was later removed from the magazine's Web site.
According to Politico.com, McCain is going to hold a rally at a baseball stadium in the St. Louis area on Sunday with both Romney and Huckabee, a former Arkansas governor, by his side. The online political news source suggested that meant Romney was indeed McCain's choice.
Other contenders for the GOP vice-presidential nomination include Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge and independent Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman.
The decision must be made soon so McCain's choice can be formally nominated for the November ballot at the Republican National Convention that is set to start Sept. 1, in St. Paul, Minn.
Romney, who ended his own bid for the White House in February, has become one of McCain's most vocal supporters. But a spokesman for the former Massachusetts governor downplayed Romney's interest in the vice-presidency.
"As Governor Romney has said many times, there is a long list of Republicans who would make good running mates for John McCain. Governor Romney's expectation is that he will be campaigning for John McCain as a supporter of the ticket and not as a member of it," his spokesman, Eric Fehrnstrom, said.
Utahns have supported Romney's political aspirations, with millions of dollars in campaign donations and at the polls. The former leader of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City won an overwhelming 90 percent of the vote in Utah's Feb. 5 Republican primary.
Because the majority of Utahns share Romney's Mormon faith, they have also closely followed the role of religion in the campaign. Huckabee angered some Utahns earlier this year by asking if Mormons believed that Jesus and the devil are brothers and later apologized.
Huckabee, now a commentator for Fox News, has recently criticized Romney for changing his positions on conservative issues. "I think there are better choices for Sen. McCain that have the approval of value voters," Huckabee said.
Kirk Jowers, head of the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics and a longtime supporter of Romney who now leads Utah Lawyers for McCain, said Romney remains a strong candidate for vice president despite the recent pressure from evangelicals.
"The resistance is not as great as people had feared. There is a small minority that is religiously bigoted against Mormons," Jowers said. "As long as the v.p. is pro-life, they will get over any of their other concerns."But, he said, supporters shouldn't read too much into Romney's appearance in Denver today. "The GOP would want Romney in Denver regardless of whether he was certain to become v.p. or had no chance," Jowers said, "because he's the GOP 'go-to' guy."
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