Vote God 2008

Evangelicals focus on Mitt Romney's speech about his faith.

February 26, 2009, 6:13 PM

Dec. 5, 2007 — -- The presidential campaign of Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-NY, fired a county campaign chairman in Iowa Wednesday for forwarding an email accusing Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill. of secretly praying to Allah.

"There's an email floating around that says I am a Muslim plant, planning to take over America. This would surprise my pastor at Trinity United Church of Christ," Obama said earlier this year.

This heavenly smear wasn't really so unusual. You can't spend any time on the campaign trail this year without bumping into God.

Former Arkansas governor and Baptist minister Mike Huckabee is now leading in polls of likely Republican caucus-goers in Iowa. Why? Huckabee explained last week at Liberty University's convocation.

"There's only one explanation for it, and it's not a human one. It's the same power that helped a little boy with two fish and five loaves feed a crowd of 5,000 people,'' Huckabee said.

Thursday former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who hopes to become the first Mormon president, will deliver an address about the role of faith in America.

"I certainly will answer some questions relating to how my own faith would inform my presidency," Romney said.

Romney's campaign this afternoon released photographs of their man calmly preparing the speech. He seemed calm for a man who is being abandoned in droves by Evangelical voters -- because of his Mormon faith, in many cases.

It might make you wonder. The White House and Americans in general are frustrated the Iraqi government cannot put aside their religious differences. After all, here in the states, who really cares what version of god you believe in. Right?


"We are a nation under God, and we do place our trust in him," Romney has said.

Romney originally had tried to blur the difference between his Mormon faith -- whose adherents consider themselves the only true Christians -- and Evangelicals. But that did not go over well among many born-again Christians.

"Mitt Romney is not a Christian, he's a Mormon and Mormonism is a cult," says Dr. Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas, Texas.

Mormons dispute that charge, of course, and find it offensive. But as summer became fall, it became apparent to the Romney campaign that the issue was not going anywhere.

John McCain's 95-year-old mother Roberta belittled Romney's role running the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics.

"As far as the Salt Lake City thing, he's a Mormon, and the Mormons of Salt Lake City caused that scandal," Roberta McCain said on MSNBC's Hardball.

Joked her son John, "the views of my mother are not necessarily the views of mine."

Last month, a mysterious group was calling Republicans such as Marcel Kielkicuki in Manchester, Iowa, spreading unflattering information about Romney and his faith.

"Then there were a series of questions on Mormonism, and all those were very negative as well, and those just caught me off guard as well," Kielkicuki told ABC News.

Responded Romney at the time, "Well, clearly any derogatory comments about anyone's faith, those comments are troubling and the fact that they keep coming up is even more troubling."

By the time Huckabee started his surge in Iowa a few weeks ago, whether heaven-sent or not, and began running TV ads calling himself a "Christian leader" --- Romney's aides started pushing him to do something.

Dr. Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention told Romney a while ago he had to address the issue head-on.

"I told him that as far as I was concerned he needed to give a speech -- he needed to do a JFK," Land said.

Land's reference to "doing a JFK" is a nod to the first and last Catholic president. In September 1960, Kennedy had been attacked by enough high-profile Evangelicals who questioned whether he'd be a tool of the Vatican, that he felt compelled to appear before a group of ministers in Houston.

He was clearly irritated.

"I want to emphasize from the outset that we have far more critical issues to face in the 1960 election," he said. "But because I am a Catholic, and no Catholic has ever been elected president, the real issues in this campaign have been obscured -- perhaps deliberately, in some quarters less responsible than this."

More famously, Kennedy said, "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."

In reality Kennedy faced anti-Catholic attacks up until Election Day and beyond. Just as anti-Mormon attacks will not end tomorrow no matter how well Romney's speech is delivered.

Religion after all plays an increasingly prominent role in the lives of the American people and thus, in the public lives of their candidates.

Huckabee recently secured the endorsement of Tim LaHaye, co-author of the blockbuster Left Behind books that provide a portrait of the Book of Revelation and End of Days.

ABC News asked Huckabee if he believes in the concept of End of Days.

"You know, as long as there's been a Christian church, every generation thought they were the last one," Huckabee said. "I came to the conclusion that I needed to live as if it's all going to end tomorrow, but also to believe that it may be another million years before it comes to a conclusion."

And this election season G-O-D is not only an issue for the G-O-P.

All the major Democrats have made a big show of their belief in Jesus.

"I strayed away from the Lord for a period of time, and then came back, in my adulthood, and my faith came roaring back during some crises that my own family was faced with, said Democratic candidate John Edwards.

And Obama notes, "These days when people ask me what role does religion play, you're running for president, leader of free world, what role does it play? I say it plays every role."

Jesus was there for Hillary Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

"For me, because I have been tested in ways that are both publicly known and those that are not so well known or not known at all, my faith and the support of my extended faith family, people whom I knew who were literally praying for me in prayer chains, who were prayer warriors for me, sustained me through a very difficult time," Clinton said at a dialogue on faith earlier this year.

And as she told the parishioners at Saddleback church, with super-pastor Rick Warren just last week, God continues to play a role in her life.

"I am often asked if I am a praying person and I have always responded that I was fortunate enough to be raised to understand the power and purpose in prayer, but had I not been -- probably one week in the White House would have turned me into one," Clinton said.

The place of religion is hardly new in American politics, but perhaps in no modern-day election has the Lord played so prominent and consistent a role popping up on the trail, in debates, as a major player in the election so far.

And no matter who wins next November it's fairly clear God will be his or her co-pilot.

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