ABC News’ John Berman Reports: Mitt Romney will deliver the most anticipated speech of his presidential campaign. Entitled, "Faith in America," it will address his feelings about religion, and of course, his own religion.
Romney has served as a bishop on the Church of Latter Day saints. His Mormon faith is a frequent source of questions on the campaign trail.
In an official statement, campaign spokesman Kevin Madden said, "This speech is an opportunity for Governor Romney to share his views on religious liberty, the grand tradition religious tolerance has played in the progress of our nation and how the governor’s own faith would inform his Presidency if he were elected."
"Governor Romney understands that faith is an important issue to many Americans, and he personally feels this moment is the right moment for him to share his views with the nation."
The news comes the day that a poll from the Des Moines Register was released showing Romney trailing former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee in Iowa. Though Romney aides claim the timing of the announcement was coincidental, and the decision to make a speech was made last week.
For months, reporters have kicked around the idea of whether Romney would give a "JFK" speech on religion. In the 1960 presidential campaign, Kennedy told a Texas gathering ,"I am not the Catholic candidate for President. I am the Democratic Party’s candidate for President who happens also to be a Catholic. I do not speak for my church on public matters–and the church does not speak for me."
As recently as a few weeks ago, some staffers suggested it was not imminent, merely because there was "no need" to give it with Romney comfortably ahead in the polls in Iowa and New Hampshire.
Something has clearly changed.
Aides vehemently deny the decision to give the speech now is a direct response to Mike Huckabee’s rise in the polls in Iowa, with his direct appeal to evangelical voters. But it is clear that Huckabee’s commercial entitled “Believe,” in which he touts himself as a “Christian Leader,” has ruffled some feathers in Boston’s North End, where Romney’s campaign office is located.
The final decision to give the speech now, was the Governor’s alone, aides say.
Romney will give his speech in Texas as well, Thursday at the George H.W. Bush presidential library in College Station, Texas (although aides say the fact that Romney’s speech is in Texas like Kennedys is just a coincidence).
The former Massachusetts governor has no designated speech writer on staff, and for the most part writes his speeches himself. For this speech, designed to explain the role of his Mormon faith in his potential presidency, Romney has received a great deal of input from his staff, and while he might not have written every word himself, it is mostly a Mitt Romney production. He has been going over drafts regularly.
On background, Romney advisers said the decision to give a speech was a personal one, Romney felt "time has come to address the issue."
It doesn’t come without risks. Aides acknowledge that there is a "risk is that we focus on the Mormon faith, as opposed to focusing on a candidate who’s faith is an important part of who he is."
But aides say many people have been asking, including so many reporters, it just seemed important to explain his faith because, they say, "it is such an important part of who he is."
Polls show that Romney does face challenges when it comes to allaying voter’s concerns about his faith.
"Romney, more seriously, faces continued misgivings about his faith. A third of voters who lean Republicans (32 percent) describe themselves as "uncomfortable" with the idea of a Mormon president. That goes to 39 percent of evangelical white Protestants, a core GOP group. Twenty-five percent of evangelicals are "entirely" uncomfortable with a Mormon president."
And Romney trails Mike Huckabee among evangelicals in Iowa.
Romeny aides acknowledge the decision to make the speech is a big one. On adviser said, "we will all remember this."