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Stakes raised for Romney ahead of Liberty University address

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The stakes for Mitt Romney’s speech on Saturday at Liberty University had already been high, as the event represents the first time during the 2012 campaign that the former Massachusetts governor and the first Mormon on track to clinch the GOP presidential nomination will address a Christian college.

View Photo Gallery Religion and politics at Liberty: Mitt Romney is the latest politician to make a pilgrimage to the flagship Christian university.

But the circumstances surrounding the address have now taken a new, unexpected turn as the debate over gay rights has entered the political spotlight following President Obama’s announcement that he supports same-sex marriage, as well as a Washington Post report on Romney’s behavior toward a student presumed to be gay during his high school years.

Democrats have already sought to go on offense on the gay marriage issue: At a fundraiser in Seattle on Thursday, Obama portrayed Romney as “backwards on equality.”

Romney’s Liberty University address had been on his schedule for nearly a month. And speech excerpts released by the Romney campaign on Friday indicated that the presumptive GOP nominee plans to focus on the link between families and the economy, not on gay marriage.

“In the most practical, everyday terms, the best cultural assets are values as basic as personal responsibility, the dignity of hard work, and, above all, the commitments of family,” Romney is expected to say. “Take those away, or take them for granted, and so many things can go wrong in a life. Keep them strong, and so many things will go right.”

According to the excerpts, Romney will also mention an anecdote in which he asked his father, former Michigan governor George Romney (R), what was his greatest accomplishment in life.

“Without a moment’s pause, his answer was, ‘Raising you four kids,’” Romney is expected to say. “I had his example to follow, and I have never once regretted missing any experience or opportunity in business in order to be with my wife and five sons. ... Among the things in life that can be put off, being there when it matters most isn’t one of them.”

In the excerpts, Romney encourages the students not to “lose heart” as the country continues its slow economic recovery, acknowledging that “you are ready for jobs that were supposed to ready for you.”

And he makes only an indirect criticism of President Obama for his record over the past four years.

“I’m not sure quite why, but lately I’ve found myself thinking about life in four-year stretches,” he is to say. “And let’s just say that not everybody has filled these past four years with as much achievement as you have.”

Is the timing of the address a boon for Romney, or an unanticipated headache?

Working in Romney’s favor is that the renewed debate over gay marriage could serve to draw attention away from the other issue that would likely have dominated his Liberty address – views among evangelical Christians of Romney’s Mormon faith.

On the other hand, Romney’s prepared remarks indicate that he is intent on keeping his sights set on the economy, as he has sought to do throughout the campaign – and the continued gay-marriage focus nationally could mean that Romney may have a tougher time breaking into the conversation.

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