Romney Defends Faith Speech

Republican contender defends faith, not 'Mormon speech'.


Dec. 10, 2007— -- Less than one week after delivering arguably the most important speech of his presidential campaign, Mitt Romney remains confident the country is ready to elect a Mormon president.

"We never selected our president based on which church he went to. That would be a very sad day if we were ever to do so," Romney told ABC News' Charles Gibson.

Last Thursday, the former Massachusetts governor sought to address voters' concerns about his faith.

"If I am fortunate to become your president, I will serve no one religion, no one group, no one cause and no one interest. A president must serve only the common cause of the people of the United States," Romney told the crowd at the George H.W. Bush Library at Texas A&M University.

Romney insisted Monday that the speech was an opportunity, not a burden.

"I think a lot of people in this country don't know very much about my faith," he later told Gibson. "I did not see a crying need to give a speech on faith. Instead, I saw that by virtue of having a relatively unknown faith, a lot of people were interested … and wanted to know if I was going to give a Kennedy type speech."

In their one-on-one interview, Gibson asked Romney about his reaction to religious leaders and voters who perceive Mormonism as a "cult."

"You get used to that, and people of different churches are certainly allowed to campaign for their own beliefs," Romney told ABC News.

"But when it comes to selecting a person who is going to be a president or a senator or a governor, surely the differences between competing faiths have to be put aside in recognition that the nation is a nation of diverse beliefs, where people come not to represent their church or their faith but to represent their nation."

Gibson pointed out that Romney used the word "Mormon" only once in his speech.

"There was no particular conscious choice to that," Romney said. "The official name of my church is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. That's quite a mouthful and not terribly familiar with the people."

Romney explained he wasn't anxious about using the word "Mormon" many times. "This was not a Mormon speech," he explained, "and I didn't want to make it a Mormon speech."

The former Republican governor said there are a number of elected officials who happen to be Mormon.

Senate Majority LeaderHarry Reid "is a member of our church," Romney said, "and he is probably the leading Democrat in the entire nation right now."

"I am very proud of the Mormon Church," Romney told Gibson, "I am proud of the fact that my forefathers helped to found the American West; that we have fought for the vision of religious tolerance; that we have achieved it; and that someone like me can run for president."

In an interview on NBC's "Today" show before the speech, former Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, who has risen in the polls in Iowa but not in New Hampshire to challenge Romney, was asked whether his rival's Mormon faith would have any impact on whether he would make a good president.

"None whatsoever," Huckabee said. "I think it's a matter of what his views are, whether they're consistent, whether they're authentic, just like mine are. It has nothing to do with what faith a person has. It's whether or not that person's life is consistent with how he lives it."

Other rivals disagreed.

On his campaign bus Thursday night, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., suggested Huckabee's recent success in Iowa led Romney to make the speech.

"He [Huckabee] knows there's a strong voting bloc in Iowa that call themselves 'Christian conservatives,'" McCain said. "He's always been trying to appeal to them. I saw some of his mailers, stuff out there. I think that Huckabee's rise in the polls has clearly had an impact on a lot of people's strategic thinking."

Not so, Romney told ABC News.

"I have been through a couple of surges now. First was the McCain surge, then the Giuliani surge, and then the Fred Thompson surge, and now it's the Mike Huckabee surge. And in the past, what's happened is, when the surge occurs, people look more closely at the record of the vision of the person running … and inevitably the surge kinda deflates. I think you will see the same thing here. I sure hope so."

In his first blog posting for, ABC News political contributor Matthew Dowd, who served as President Bush's chief strategist in 2004, called the speech "wonderful" but quickly added "[Romney's] fall in the polls has nothing to do with the fact that he is a Mormon, and has more to do with questions of authenticity, and I don't know if one speech can fix that."

Rivals' reactions-- who have turned to God frequently as a topic on the 2008 campaign trail -- weren't quite as harsh.

Rep. Ron Paul, R-Tex., seemingly the libertarian conscience of the Republican Party this election season, defended his GOP rival.

"The recent attacks and insinuations, both direct and subtle, that Gov. Romney may be less fit to serve as president of our United States because of his faith fly in the face of everything America stands for. Gov. Romney should be judged fairly, on his record and his character, not on the church he attends," said Paul in a written statement.

Republican candidate and former Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee declined to talk about the address during an interview with an Iowa radio station Thursday, saying he would "hate to punt" without hearing the speech for himself, but said he was "Ti-Vo-ing" the speech.

Instead, Thompson talked about his own faith, which he said "has to do with everything I do and everything I hope to be."

ABC News' Christine Byun, Bret Hovell, Matt Stuart and Z. Byron Wolf contributed to this report.

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