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December 3, 2007
Romney Plans to Address Mormon Issue Head-on
With polls showing him falling behind Huckabee in Iowa as well as some disappointing numbers among Christian conservatives in the south, Mitt Romney on Thursday will do something he has been saying for months isn't necessary; tackle the issue of his Mormonism head on.
Asked why the decision was made, Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom said in an e-mail that "it's an important topic, and Gov. Romney has decided that he wants to address it, and that now is the time to do it." That allusion to Kennedy's speech before the Greater Houston Ministerial Association in 1960 is part of the reason Romney is doing it; the speech worked for Kennedy, why not me? There are several major differences between the two events.
The speech comes as Romney has slipped in Iowa to Mike Huckabee, a Baptist preacher who is drawing support in part because of his faith and that of Romney. That it it's coming at Texas A&M is not a surprise nor an accident. As Halperin notes, Romney has given a major speech there before and is close to George H.W Bush and his wife, Barbara.
Then there is the symmetry with John F. Kennedy's famous 1960 campaign speech about his Catholicism — which took place before the Greater Houston Ministerial Association 90 miles to the south of College Station. Fehrnstrom said they "reached out to President Bush's office last week, and they graciously agreed to host the event."
First, Kennedy spoke to the ministers in September during the general election campaign. Romney is trying to lance the religious boil before the primiaries. Secondly - and more problematically - Romney is not only seeking tolerance for his religious views but must convince his Christian audience that there is nothing in his Mormon faith that will prevent him from living his religion in a way acceptable to them. Where Kennedy used the speech to plead for church-state seperation, Romeny will have to show that he can blur that line as well as any protestant.
The venue is interesting - the Bush Library guarantees that the audience will be friendly but besides that, it doesn't have much to recommend it. In fact, continuing the comparison to Kennedy's speech, JFK braved the lion's den by confronting his worst critics at the time - conservative southern Christians.
It should be a very interesting speech.