Cover Story

Elephant in the room

"Elephant in the room" Continued...

Issue: "Elephant in the room," Nov. 3, 2007

The candidate hopes pro-life voters will put aside their qualms about his pro-abortion beliefs by assuring them that his presidency wouldn't make the abortion problem worse. As he has in the past, Giuliani spoke of the need to "reduce the number of abortions."

It's not clear that argument will win over evangelicals, but Giuliani does remain ahead in current polls, including among those who say they attend church regularly. And the candidate is banking on Republican fear that a Democratic alternative-specifically Hillary Clinton-would be worse for the country.

Bradley Ferguson is no Giuliani supporter, but he also doesn't want to see a Democratic candidate elected next year. The married father of three teenagers traveled with his family to the conference from Texas, and he says he is "more than undecided" about which candidate to support in the primaries. But he has decided one thing for certain: He will vote for the Republican nominee in the general election.

Ferguson says he wouldn't support Romney in a primary either, but would back him in a general election, largely because of what happened in his former home state of Arizona: That's where Democrat Janet Napolitano beat Republican Matt Salmon in the race for governor in 2002.

Salmon was a Mormon, but "100 percent on conservative issues," says Ferguson. Napolitano was "an atheistic, pro-abortion, pro-homosexual, high-tax liberal," he says. "But people wouldn't vote for Salmon because he was Mormon. To me that's insane."

Other Christian leaders share a similar perspective. Dobson and Perkins have hinted at support for Romney in the primary, and several high-profile evangelicals have recently endorsed the former Massachusetts governor, including publicist Mark DeMoss and Wayne Grudem of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.

Bauer told WORLD he could support Romney in the primary as well, saying his Mormonism "wouldn't be a deal-breaker." Bauer said that Romney shares similar values with evangelicals, and that other Mormons elected to public office haven't used their position to promote religion: "So I would hope we could keep theology out of it."

Romney kept theology out of his Friday evening address at the conference. Some political observers wondered if the candidate would use the evangelical forum to confront concerns about his Mormonism and explain his religious beliefs. (John F. Kennedy famously delivered such an address about his Catholicism while running for the presidency.)

But Romney made only a passing reference to Mormonism, quickly transitioning into a discussion of strengthening the military and the economy. The candidate focused most of his speech on championing pro-life principles, and he pledged to support a Federal Marriage Amendment aimed at protecting traditional marriage.

That's not enough for Tricia Erickson. The former Mormon and daughter of a Mormon bishop grew up and married in the Church of Latter Day Saints before converting to Christianity later in life.

She now runs a production company and consulting business, and she sat in on a closed-door meeting with evangelical leaders at the Washington conference to follow up on their recent Salt Lake City meeting.

Erickson told WORLD she couldn't discuss the content of the meeting but did say she expressed her concerns over Romney's Mormonism, which she calls a cult. (She described a series of bizarre, secret rituals she participated in as a Mormon youth.)

Erickson said she's concerned that electing a Mormon president could make Mormonism more attractive to more Americans: "A lot of evangelicals don't really know about the Mormon religion."

Another source who attended the meeting, but asked not to be identified by WORLD, said that while the group (Dobson, Perkins, and Bauer were not present at the meeting) did not unanimously settle on a candidate to back, most people in the room expressed interest in the candidate who drew the most buzz over the weekend: Mike Huckabee.

Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas, was the last candidate to speak but drew the most enthusiastic response. The former Southern Baptist minister warned the group to remember that while some political matters are negotiable, others aren't: "the sanctity of human life, the definition of marriage, the purpose of our freedom, and the opportunity for us to worship as we please."

Huckabee called for a Federal Marriage Amendment as well as a constitutional amendment to protect the unborn. He also called for welfare reform that would not penalize recipients for getting married, and for repairing a tax code so broken "not even duct tape and WD-40 can fix it."

Huckabee, who acknowledges he has far less money and recognition than his top-tier opponents, ended with a plea not to allow "expediency or electability to replace our principles as the new value."

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