Romney Reaches to the Christian Right

Before his commencement address, presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, left, confers with televangelist Pat Robertson, chancellor of Regent University.
Before his commencement address, presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, left, confers with televangelist Pat Robertson, chancellor of Regent University. (By Gary C. Knapp -- Associated Press)
By Perry Bacon Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 6, 2007

VIRGINIA BEACH, May 5 -- Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney (R) did not discuss his Mormon faith as he continued his outreach Saturday to conservative Christians in a graduation speech at Regent University, the school founded by televangelist Pat Robertson.

Instead, Romney, who is intensely courting this key segment of the Republican base in hopes of winning the party's 2008 presidential nomination, expounded on conservative themes such as the importance of child-rearing and marriage and the presence of evil in the world.

"There is no work more important to America's future than the work that is done within the four walls of the American home," Romney said. He also criticized people who choose not to get married because they enjoy the single life.

"It seems that Europe leads Americans in this way of thinking," Romney told the crowd of more than 5,000. "In France, for instance, I'm told that marriage is now frequently contracted in seven-year terms where either party may move on when their term is up. How shallow and how different from the Europe of the past."

And he twice referred to the Virginia Tech shootings on April 16 in which a gunman killed 32 people before killing himself.

"We're shocked by the evil of the Virginia Tech shooting," Romney said. "I opened my Bible shortly after I heard of the tragedy. Only a few verses, it seems, after the Fall, we read that Adam and Eve's oldest son killed his younger brother. From the beginning, there has been evil in the world."

He added: "Pornography and violence poison our music and movies and TV and video games. The Virginia Tech shooter, like the Columbine shooters before him, had drunk from this cesspool."

Robertson, who has not endorsed any of the 2008 presidential candidates, called Romney an "outstanding American."

It was Romney's second appearance at Regent University in the past four months. His visits underscore the competition for support from top Christian conservative leaders such as Robertson, whose television programs have millions of viewers. Romney, along with several other GOP hopefuls, attended a convention of religious broadcasters in February. Former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani will appear at Regent next month.

Some conservative Christians have questioned the intensity of Romney's opposition to abortion because, when he was running for governor, he said he would not seek additional restrictions. And some conservative evangelicals also wonder about his Mormonism. On the Web site of the Christian Broadcasting Network, another Robertson entity, a page called "How Do I Recognize a Cult?" says that "when it comes to spiritual matters, the Mormons are far from the truth."

In private meetings with conservative leaders and members of Congress, Romney has asserted that his experiences in dealing with stem cell research as governor hardened his antiabortion views, and he tried to explain misconceptions about his faith.

But, publicly, he has emphasized that he is a "person of faith" and said that Americans are electing a commander in chief, not a pastor in chief. To be sure, Mormons are major Romney backers; data from his campaign finance records in his three months as a presidential candidate show that a Zip code area in Provo, Utah, led all others in donations to his campaign. Provo is the home of Brigham Young University, his alma mater.

Romney aides have been repeatedly asked if the candidate will deliver an address explaining his religion, as John F. Kennedy did in 1960 when he ran as the first major Roman Catholic presidential candidate since Democrat Al Smith in 1928. They have generally dismissed the idea, but without foreclosing the possibility.

They say that voters are more concerned about Romney's views on issues than about the particulars of his faith, although some published polls have shown that a sizable number of Americans have expressed a reluctance to back a Mormon for president.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company