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Huckabee (Associated Press/Photo by J. Scott Applewhite)

Mentioning Mormonism

Politics | Mitt Romney's faith comes out of the campaign's shadows Wednesday at the convention

TAMPA, Fla.-For most of this already long presidential race, indeed for most of his political career, Mitt Romney and his campaign have refrained from discussing in detail his Mormon religion.

But that began to change Wednesday during the second day of the Republican National Convention.

Both Republican vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan and former presidential candidate and Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, during evening speeches at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, argued that Romney's beliefs should not preclude him from becoming president.

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Team Romney hopes that voters skeptical of the Mormon faith will feel more assured after Ryan, a Catholic, and Huckabee, an evangelical Christian and ordained Southern Baptist minister, took nonthreatening stances on Mormonism.

"Let me clear the air about whether guys like me would only support an evangelical," Huckabee said. "I care far less as to where Mitt Romney takes his family to church than I do about where he takes this country."

Huckabee criticized Democrats for attacking the biblical definition of marriage and for battling Catholics over the contraceptive mandate. He also praised Romney for giving more than 16 percent of his income to his church and to charities, saying, "I'd feel better about having a leader who gives more of his own money instead of mine."

Ryan, who still belongs to the same parish where he was baptized in Janesville, Wis., acknowledged that he goes to a different church than Romney.

"But in any church, the best kind of preaching is done by example," said Ryan, who then cited Romney's marriage as an example of "marriage at its best" and proof that Romney is a supporter of traditional family values.

The theme of Romney's candidacy has remained how his business background provides him with the experiences needed to tackle the nation's fiscal crisis. But viewers should expect to hear even more about Romney's Mormon journey from the candidate himself on Thursday when he accepts the party's nomination during the convention's last session.

A member of a church Romney attended also is scheduled to speak and a Mormon prayer will be offered. Stories will be told about how Romney helped others in need as a leader in his church.

Romney's campaign strategists now seem comfortable enough to begin to weave his religion into the personal narrative they are presenting to the public.

This change toward a more transparent stand on Romney's beliefs began in the middle of August when the campaign allowed reporters to attend a service at Romney's church in Wolfeboro, N.H. Romney, his wife, Ann, and one of his son's families sat near the back for a service that included less than 100 people. They sang "How Firm a Foundation" as their opening hymn and heard a young woman give a report about her recent mission trip. Mitt Romney let one of his grandkids sit on his lap, and Ann Romney and other women in the congregation joined the choir to sign a Mormon hymn.

The campaign is hoping that removing the veil on Romney's faith and highlighting his acts of service will help counter the prevailing image, being fueled by Democrats, that Romney's wealth has made him cold, aloof, and out of touch with the average American. But the spotlight on Mormonism will also invite greater scrutiny into a belief system that remains a mystery to so many voters.

Follow WORLDmag.com's in-depth coverage of the Republican National Convention all week.

Edward Lee Pitts
Edward Lee Pitts

Lee is WORLD's Washington Bureau chief. As a reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press, he was embedded with a National Guard unit in Iraq. He also once worked in the press office of Sen. Lamar Alexander.

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