Governor Mitt Romney will deliver a much-anticipated speech on religious faith at the George H. W. Bush library on Thursday. Romney’s Mormon faith has been an underlying theme of his presidential candidacy but, until today, it has been an area he and his campaign have shied away from addressing directly.
“This speech is an opportunity for Governor Romney to share his views on religious liberty, the grand tradition religious tolerance has played in the progress of our nation and how the governor’s own faith would inform his Presidency if he were elected,” said Romney spokesman Kevin Madden in a statement released this evening.
Throughout this campaign year, Romney has frequently been asked whether he would address his faith directly. Many evangelical Christians view the Mormon Church, officially known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, critically. And voters in general have expressed hesitance about voting for a presidential candidate who subscribes to that faith.
Last June, 43 percent of registered voters in a CBS News poll said they would not vote for a presidential candidate who is Mormon. Romney has frequently been asked whether he would consider delivering a speech about his faith along the lines of the address John F. Kennedy gave when his Catholic faith provoked a similar discussion in the 1960 presidential campaign.
When asked about the possibility of giving such a speech by CBS News chief Washington correspondent Bob Schieffer last month, Romney replied, “I probably could never do something that would compare to what John F. Kennedy did – his was a masterpiece in American political history.”
Romney continued, “Maybe there’s a time when I talk mostly about religion. Although, I don’t know, at this stage I’m getting good support across the country, people want to know a bit … a bit about my faith. They learn a bit about it, and they’ll say, ‘OK, that’s fine, now what do you think about the jihad? What do you think about being competitive with China? How can you fix your schools? What’re you going to do about health care?’ And those issues overtake any differences with regards to religion they might see.”
The speech comes at a moment in the campaign when Romney’s once-dominant lead in Iowa has eroded. He trails former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, an ordained Baptist minister, in the most recent poll in the first-in-the-nation caucus. Social conservatives in Iowa, who wield plenty of influence in the caucuses, seem to have vacillated between candidates like Romney and Fred Thompson but appear to be coalescing around Huckabee.
Romney’s decision to address his faith directly looks to be an attempt to soothe evangelicals who may be having second thoughts. “Governor Romney understands that faith is an important issue to many Americans, and he personally feels this moment is the right moment for him to share his views with the nation,” Madden said in his statement. For Romney, it is a crucial moment in the campaign, one which will put his faith under the kind of spotlight he has sought to avoid until now.