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Catching Mitt

"Catching Mitt" Continued...

Issue: "Is Romney rolling?," May 19, 2007

Romney insists that Mormons and evangelicals have "values that are very much the same. We could look at each other's records for protecting life or preserving traditional marriage and for strengthening families and see that we are on the same page in terms of the direction needed for America."

Some evangelical leaders agree: Charles Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship, told WORLD that Romney is "a very attractive candidate. While I have deep theological differences with him, I am more influenced by his values and how they would play out in public office. I don't make endorsements, but he has got a lot of appeal."

Skeptics wonder how Mormon theology connects to those values. WORLD asked Romney: "What one or two issues do you wish evangelical Christians understood better about your Mormon faith?" He replied, "Nothing jumps to my mind," with the clear suggestion he'd rather move on to other matters.

But Romney detractors are not so eager-even if they're willing to set aside the Mormon affiliation-to ignore the issues on which Romney has switched positions over the last few years.

As recently as 2002, for example, during his gubernatorial campaign, Romney said about abortion: "I respect and will protect a woman's right to choose. This choice is a deeply personal one. Women should be free to choose based on their own beliefs, not mine and not the government's."

Two weeks ago, his statement was very different: "It's my hope," he told WORLD, "that you'll see the Supreme Court return to the states the authority to create their own laws regarding abortion. The one-size-fits-all Roe v. Wade decision was wrongly decided, and I look for the court over time to provide to the people and their elected representatives of the states the right to protect life as they feel appropriate."

Asked to explain the shift in his thinking, Romney attributed the change to his changing political roles: "It's one thing to consider something as a citizen. It's another when you're actually responsible for the people of a state and you see the impact of abortion practices on the people of that state. . . . My change followed a lengthy debate regarding cloning and embryo farming associated with stem-cell research. And it became clear to me that we had so cheapened the value of human life through a Roe v. Wade mentality that it was important to stand up for life."

Harder to discern are details surrounding apparent shifts in Romney's positions on marriage, civil unions, adoption rights, and protected rights for homosexuals. That discussion has led to the formation of a whole anti-Romney protest industry in Massachusetts called "MassResistance," an organization that pumps out reams of documentation to show how far to the left Romney has been on such issues. No one, even in MassResistance, charges that Romney has ever favored approving homosexual marriage, but conservative opponents say that his cautious role in the appointment of judges in Massachusetts has left the homosexual lobby stronger there than it would otherwise be. They criticize his statement, in regard to the Boy Scout ban on homosexual leaders, that "all people should be allowed to participate in the Boy Scouts regardless of their sexual orientation."

And then Romney still has to live down his infamous statement, while debating Ted Kennedy in a 1994 race for the U.S. Senate, that he was "no fan of Ronald Reagan conservatism."

His own team agrees he probably tried too hard a few weeks back when he should have passed on a question about his experiences as an outdoorsman and hunter. "I've been a hunter all my life," Romney expansively assured his listeners. By the next day, though, he had to admit he had gone hunting only once or twice in his life.

So Romney's conundrum is this: On the one hand, he has to persuade folks that his Mormonism isn't a really serious issue. Speaking at the Simi Valley GOP debate, he stressed that it's not Americans, but America's enemies, who find religion a divisive matter. "We don't choose our leaders based on which church they go to," he said. "The people we are fighting [overseas], they are the ones fighting over religion."

But then, after persuading skeptics that he's not radical about his faith, or that it's not really as weird as it may seem to some observers, he has to convince them at the very same time that he is serious about his conservatism, and that he's not a johnny-come-lately to the core principles of the party.

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