Linda Feldmann, in a Christian Science Monitor story notes that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney was taking a cue from John F. Kennedy 47 year prior, when he “sought to allay concerns Thursday over his Mormon faith before an audience of invited guests.”
The event for JFK was an election-eve address where he spoke about Catholicism, and for Romney it was an event at the George Bush Presidential Library in College Station, Texas.
Rather than speaking about the specifics of Mormonism, Mitt Romney invoked the nation’s Founding Fathers. Leaning on Article 6 of the Constitution, Romney talked about America’s “religious underpinnings, ” and “religious tolerance” He also mentioned the “common creed of moral convictions” within the varied theologies of American churches, ” Feldmann wrote. The Constitution asserts that “no religious test” is required to qualify a candidate for office.
And, just as the future President Kennedy promised in 1960 that he would not accept instruction from the pope, Romney promised that as president he would answer to “no one religion.”
“When I place my hand on the Bible and take the oath of office, that oath becomes my highest promise to God, “ Romney said. “If I am fortunate to become your president, I will serve no one religion, no one group, no one cause, and no one interest. A president must serve only the common cause of the people of the United States.”
Romney also referenced Article 6 of the Constitution, which states that
“There are some who would have a presidential candidate describe and explain his church’s distinctive doctrines. To do so would enable the very religious test the founders prohibited in the Constitution. No candidate should become the spokesman for his faith. For if he becomes president he will need the prayers of the people of all faiths.” – Mitt Romney.
Before making his statements, the issue had been debated inside the Romney campaign over the options for covering or announcing this issue. As the Republican candidate, Romney and his team knew his Mormon faith was a divisive issue for GOP voters, especially evangelicals.
Feldmann noted in the story that Romney was taking a gamble not only by addressing this issue, but leaving it until close to the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 3. If his gamble fails, the huge media attention he gains from making the announcement may be wrecked by his rejection due to “making Mormonism an even bigger issue.”
His campaign’s internal polling showed that his religion was facing huge voter resistance. Evangelical Iowa voters were much more worried about his Mormon faith than they were happy with his business skills and success in turning around the 2002 Olympics.
The problem for Romney is that his competition, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee – an ordained Baptist preacher and an Evangelical – is closing Romney’s lead. The next test, New Hampshire still has Romney in the lead, but Iowa is first, and his lead has evaporated.
Feldmann wrote that Pew Research poll from August showed that one in four GOP voters nationwide are less likely to vote for a Mormon candidate. Romney has previously avoided talking about his religion, instead emphasizing his values. That avoidance may be part of the reason some voters worry about his intentions.
Romney said his critics “would prefer it if I would simply distance myself from my religion, say that it is more a tradition than my personal conviction, or disavow one or another of its precepts.” But he refused to disavow his faith.