Cover Story

Huckabee's surge

"Huckabee's surge" Continued...

Issue: "Out from the shadows," Dec. 22, 2007

"But I'll tell you what I can tell this country: If they want a president who doesn't believe in God, there's probably plenty of choices. But if I'm selected as president of this country, they'll have one who believes in those words that God did create.

"And in the words of Martin Luther, 'Here I stand. I can do no other.'"

Open season

Even good press may be bad news for Mitt Romney after his speech on Mormonism

By Clint Rainey

Mitt Romney's Dec. 6 speech on politics and religion played well with the press. It didn't seem to turn around his slumping campaign.

Journalists and some conservatives fawned over it. On "Hardball," Chris Matthews declared, "I heard greatness this morning." Peggy Noonan said Romney "made himself some history." The left-leaning Boston Globe editorialized that his "political tour de force"was "the most presidential moment of the 2008 campaign." But polls showed Mike Huckabee's lead in Iowa increasing.

Why didn't the speech work? Romney tried with phrases like "the religion of secularism" and "believers of convenience" to hit pay dirt with theological conservatives, but the vagueness of the speech frustrated groups like Courageous Christians United, which picketed the speech. Next to a "JOSEPH LIED" sign, referring to the Mormon founder, President Rob Sivulka said Romney was wrong to "pretend like Mormons are Christians."

Others, such as Evangelicals for Mitt, disagreed, but the speech may have backfired by drawing attention to Romney's faith: A Pew survey showed that before the speech only 42 percent of the public even knew that Romney was Mormon. Since many Americans have negative attitudes toward the Latter-Day Saints, an increased knowledge of Romney's beliefs may not make voters' hearts grow fonder.

Romney in his speech tried to alleviate evangelical concerns. He said Jesus "is the Son of God and the savior of mankind." He asked voters to embrace with him a "common creed of moral convictions." But even Newsweek included in its Dec. 17 cover story a sidebar-"Disparate Doctrines: Two Faiths in Conflict"-that showed Christianity and Mormonism with decidedly different beliefs.

Another poll from before the speech revealed that half of Americans saw Romney as "very" religious, more so than any other candidate, Republican or Democrat, so he will probably face more questions about that which is, and is seen as, very important to him. The press and Romney previously had a tacit rule that his faith was personal and thus off limits; now, it is open season for newspapers and magazines, which may do to Mormonism what they did to Scientology during Tom Cruise's spat with Brooke Shields.


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