In what’s become a pilgrimage of sorts for many presidential candidates, Republican contender Mitt Romney visited the Rev. Billy Graham at his home in Black Mountain, N.C., on Thursday.
The unscheduled stop followed a campaign appearance in Asheville, N.C., earlier in the day. It marked Romney’s first meeting with the 93-year-old evangelist. The meeting also included Graham’ son, Franklin Graham, president of Christian aid group Samaritan’s Purse.
While the elder Graham didn’t explicitly endorse Romney, campaign aides said the evangelist prayed with the candidate and told him, “I’ll do all I can to help you. And you can quote me on that.”
After the visit, Graham also released a statement: “I hope millions of Americans will join me in praying for our nation and to vote for candidates who will support the biblical definition of marriage, protect the sanctity of life, and defend our religious freedoms.” Romney is the only candidate promoting a pro-marriage and pro-life platform.
While Graham has visited with presidents and candidates for decades, the meeting with Romney marked a significant moment as the evangelical leader prayed with the Mormon candidate.
Graham didn’t publicly remark on Romney’s Mormonism, but Franklin Graham commented earlier this year, “Most Christians would not recognize Mormonism … but [Romney] would be a good president if he won the nomination.”
Mark DeMoss—a Romney supporter and a publicist for Samaritan’s Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association—told the Associated Press that Franklin Graham had been encouraging church leaders to urge their members to vote.
Romney told the elder Graham, “Prayer is the most helpful thing you can do for me.” It’s likely that the campaign is hopeful that the evangelist’s tacit endorsement of Romney will also be helpful with evangelicals who might still be reticent about voting for the former Massachusetts governor.
A Pew survey in September reported that 74 percent of white evangelicals said they would support Romney. Nearly 19 percent said they support Obama. That leaves a 7 percent gap that may still be up for grabs in what may turn out to be one of the closet elections in years.