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How Romney Played Among (a Few of) the Iowa Faithful

Mitt Romney made his pitch to some religious Iowans in person last week, and in his televised address today. (Getty).

Chancey and Bud Montang are a couple without a candidate.

Bud, a financial analyst, and Chancey, who worked in advertising before she quit to home school the couple's four children several years ago, had been some of the leading backers in Ames of Senator Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), who recently dropped of the race after struggling to raise money or move in the polls.

When they agreed to watch former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney's faith speech with a reporter this morning, both said even before it started they were unlikely to back Romney, not because of his Mormonism, but because of their concerns about his previous support for abortion rights. He not only didn't win either of them with his speech, but didn't seem to move them any closer to his side.

The Montangs, who are both heavily involved in their Catholic church here, kept pointing to what they saw as a contradiction in Romney's speech; in their minds, he was saying his faith was important, but at the same time it won't impact his decisions.

"If his faith is truly in the fiber of his being, every decision he makes is affected by it," Bud Montang said. "You can't say your faith isn't going to affect your decisions. It is who you are completely."

As Romney said he would not "jettison" his religion, but also not take guidance from Mormon leaders either, Chancey Montang grew frustrated.

"You can't have it separate and together," she said, "it's one or the other."

Brownback had courted and worked with the couple for months, and both repeatedly referred to "Sam," a convert to Catholicism who spoke frequently of how his faith motivated him to get involved on some issues.

"If Sam had been elected," Bud Montang said, "I would not want the Pope to have undue influence, but at the same time, [the Pope's word] has to have some impact."

Brownback himself endorsed John McCain when he left the race and has encouraged his supporters to do the same. But many of his top organizers endorsed former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee on Tuesday, and the Montangs said they are considering McCain, Huckabee and former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson.

All the campaigns are eager to capture the former Brownback supporters, who are quite active in the circles of both conservative Christians and home school groups in the state. But Romney seems unlikely to convert this pair.

Dan Bartlett, a former top aide to President Bush, said earlier this year that while voters would say they didn't back Romney because of his previous support of abortion rights, they would really be opposing him because of his Mormon faith. Bud Montang said he didn't know much about Mormonism, but repeatedly said he could vote for a Mormon candidate, just not Romney.

In Iowa, where Huckabee is essentially tied in the polls with Romney on the strength of conservative evangelical Christians, the Romney campaign did not hold any special public events to get undecided voters to watch the speech and possibly shift toward their candidate. Romney's aides here argue that they are building a wider coalition of Republicans than Huckabee that can win the caucus for Romney.

But in interviews before the speech, they said the reception of Romney's words would be important because Iowa voters are also keen watchers of the national scene and will want to back someone who has a chance of winning nationally. If Romney's faith is seen as a barrier, then it's important to address it.

"Even for people who say it's not an issue for me, there's a question of whether it will affect viability," said Gentry Collins, Romney's Iowa state director.

While national Christian conservative activists have so far spoken positively of the speech, its timing, on a Thursday morning, prevented many social conservatives here from watching it. And the views of conservative leaders is not likely to be much guide to how the speech is viewed by undecided Christian conservaties here, who have shown little desire to follow the views of previously powerful voices in the Christianity evangelical community.

Asked about Pat Robertson's endorsement of Rudy Guiliani, another home school parent who had backed Brownback but is undecided, Katerie Sevde, called Robertson "outdated."

"My parents are big Pat Robertson supporters, but I feel he should stayed on the 700 Club and kept quiet or retired a long time ago," Sevde said.

--Perry Bacon Jr.

By Washington Post editors  |  December 6, 2007; 4:15 PM ET
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Ok folks, here's your civics 101 lesson on how freedom requires religion: Our founding fathers recognized that their experimental republic, which offered unprecedented freedoms to individuals, was doomed to failure unless there was some form of "public virtue" which would guide the actions of free people, outside the constraints of an oppressive government. This invisible hand of public virtue has been, and always will be, rooted in the belief in a Divine Creator to whom we are all answerable at some level.

Without this kind of guiding, centering principle upon which people would govern themselves, our founders believed, the experiment in liberty would soon unravel in anarchy and debauchery as people pursued their own self interest.

But alas, 230 years later, the fabric of our government and society is starting to show signs of unraveling, at least around the edges, and it is in part because many segments of our society are no longer guided by some form of religious belief; there is nothing there to check the self-interest or to give moral clarity to choices that may be justified in the context of "freedom" and "liberty," but nevertheless, lead to profoundly negative implications for society as a whole.

For example, the family-harming, morally decadent plague of hard pornography, and the more subtle "soft pornography" saturating movies, TV, and much of pop-culture, causes families to splinter, and babies to be born out of wedlock. The result? Burgeoning welfare rolls, poverty, and crime. But our cherished constitutionally-guaranteed freedoms, allows this to occur. However morally distasteful the media may be, it is allowed, because of these freedoms.

I am not suggesting that such things ought to be prohibited by government. Far from it. I am suggesting, that in the absence of moral guiding principles provided by belief in a Divine Creator, there is nothing to check the inclination of human beings to use their freedoms to embrace things that are harmful to society. Then end game of such a course, over time, would be an eventual lapse into societal breakdown, where large segments of the populace, in the free pursuit of their own self interest, trampling on the rights or security of others. Those being harmed would then likely turn to government, seeing security and protection in some form, even being willing to sacrifice their own freedoms for "protection" from the evils around them. Thus, freedom would slowly be eroded away until tyranny would be the order of the day.

Perhaps I am painting a dismal picture here, but it seems completely logical to this writer, that tyranny always has been, and always will be, the end result of a free society who refuses to govern its own behavior in moral ways. That is why religion, and the public virtue it engenders, is so vital to maintaining freedom.

Those who castigate Governor Romney for pointing this out to us, may be sadly doomed to suffer the eventual tyranny that can result from a society who turns a blind eye to these basic fundamentals of our system of government.

Posted by: rrichey | December 7, 2007 11:49 AM | Report abuse

I didn't see the speech but the news stories portrayed it in a positive light. I don't think it will have much impact on Romney's campaign, but it was something he needed to do because of Huckabee's rise in Iowa. If Romney thinks he's been hurt so far because of his religion, it will be worse if he gets the GOP nomination because the liberal media establishment will go after him because of the Mormon Church's historical racism against blacks and polygamy -- which is brought up every time a Mormon offshoot group gets headlines. True statement about many people being born into their religion, but a certain number of voters on both the right and left will not vote for Romney because of his Mormonism. He's also hurt because he's a flip-flopper extraordinaire, which was brought out in the YouTube debate.

Posted by: soptelean | December 7, 2007 11:23 AM | Report abuse

The above comments are all consistent. You see what you are thrown to see.

Posted by: andygarcia42 | December 7, 2007 10:40 AM | Report abuse

Wow. A case study in evidence-free storyline perpetuation. What else is new?

Posted by: zukermand | December 7, 2007 10:05 AM | Report abuse

I'm Pepsi, you're Coke ... let all patriotic cola drinkers stand fast against the Pellegrino crowd.

Imbiber beware.

Posted by: ChinoBlanco | December 7, 2007 4:10 AM | Report abuse

I watched Mr Romney on CNM deliver the speech and I thought he did a lousy job. First of all, he was nervous as hell, his voice was not the same as usual, and his entire facial demeanor was devoid of poise or confidence. He looked like a nervous schoolboy delivering his first Sunday school speech, and it was terrible. There was no conviction or confidence, he was just reading the script either from a teleprompter, if there was one, or by memory, because there was no emotion in his voice and he "recited" the well written but poorly orated speech. D minus. Usually, he is an excellent orator, full of humor and confidence, even playfulness, but his "Mormon" speech will go down in the annals of religous speeches a D minues. A lousy job. He just lost the election now. Nice chap, poor oratory skills compared to JFK. Sad. Goodbye, Mitt.

Posted by: polarcityboy | December 7, 2007 1:33 AM | Report abuse

I saw clips of the speech. I don't have a problem with a Mormon becoming president because people are by and large born into their religions. They are not choosing the theology and doctrines by a rational process so its not rational to ask them to explain their religion.

However, I don't think Mitt Romney did very well. Its a conundrum that "faith" is very important but it doesn't matter what you believe so long as its one of the accepted large scale faiths. I think Romney is still open to being asked about particular tenets of the Mormon religion that the public will learn about in the coming months.

Posted by: Malia2 | December 7, 2007 12:06 AM | Report abuse

Yep, Romney's disconnect with religious church going values votes is not his doctrines, but his commitment. You can't just be changing your mind on abortion all the time. His big mistake in this speech is puffing himself up as all religious like and then the ads out there showing how he changes postions on key issues dear to the hearts of social conservatives. While he is one of the darlings of the Club for Greed and other east coast and beltway establishment gurus, he does not play well in Peoria.

Posted by: TrueHawk | December 6, 2007 10:33 PM | Report abuse

The REAL hypocracy is in the latent image of "Protestants" like Bush being the neutral or "normal" and acceptable American. The REAL problem is not the affiliation, but the reputation. What is the repulation of a group? Are they known to typically help each other get ahead? That is the issue. No body really cares what people BELIEVE (to a point). The issue is WHO DO THEY PROMOTE? DO THEY ONLY PROMOTE MEMBERS? Then that is a problem in a so called pluralistic society.

Posted by: xira | December 6, 2007 8:49 PM | Report abuse

It's also interesting that the Bush and Cheney are consistently pushing for a secular government in Iraq, knowing that a secular government leads to religious tolerance and ultimately peace, while they denounce secularism in the United States.

If you want to see what a lack of secularism can and will do to any country, look at the Muslim theocracies around the world. In every single country where believers in any faith and non-believers can embrace each other without government intervention, there is peace.

But when religion takes over, no matter what religion it is, the society immediately takes a downward spiral into civil conflicts, widespread violence and intolerance and ultimately civil war.

Clearly, secularism is the blood that flows through the veins of the Constitution and we must wholly embrace it to preserve what makes our nation so incredible.

Posted by: thecrisis | December 6, 2007 7:33 PM | Report abuse

Romney's speech stated that if you are American and embrace freedom, you must be a religious person. He basically argued that as long as you're a religious person, you're a real American and all such Americans should be tolerant of each other.

But he explicitly left non-believers out of his speech. He spoke of religion, to religious people, even though as many as 50 million Americans either don't believe or don't know whether or not they believe.

When Romney said "freedom requires religion" he put a lethal nail in his coffin. This statement is in direct violation of our Constitution and should be taken as a morbid affront to what has made America so great - secularism.

Secularism allows a society to thrive, rife with religion, tolerance and diversity. Romney calls secularism a religion that is destroying our country, but fails to even realize that the entire concept of secularism was essentially invented and popularized by our Constitution. Romney relies on secularism for people to allow him to be Mormon, but then turns his back on it at the same time.

Romney starts with the premise that Mormons are Christian (which they are not) and then goes on to basically say that the Christian life is the only life for Americans. Oh, how wrong could one person be?

Posted by: thecrisis | December 6, 2007 7:27 PM | Report abuse

In a day and age where so many Americans seem to have lost the Idea of what it means to be American, I find myself wondering what the full damage done by these Home-School Types will be. I DO NOT LIKE IT AT ALL!

From the Experience I have, it amounts to very limited Social Exposure, Private Religious Doctrine, and Playtime! The results in many cases, disappointing.

Granted, Many Junior and High Schools need MUCH Improvement! But, is pulling Children out, a great Idea? There is something SERIOUSLY wrong, with ANY society that cannot offer an Institution like Education!

IF, someone is so gifted that they can do a better job than the Teachers in the School-REPLACE THEM, and help more than just Your Kids! IF someone feels what is going on in a School is Counter-productive-Get involved and help the School Help ALL the kids!

Then, for the Worthless TRASH who allow their kids to Fail, and somehow Blame the system-Maybe YOU need to actually GET INVOLVED with YOUR Offspring!

One thing is for SURE. I believe the American Educational System has been DEVASTATED by the Offspring of people who SHOULD NOT BE HERE!

Posted by: rat-the | December 6, 2007 7:07 PM | Report abuse

Asking a former Brownback supporter about Romney is like asking a Yankees fan about the Red Sox after the Sox eliminate them; you could not have found a more biased group of conservatives.

Mitt Romney knowcked it out of the park!!!

Go Mitt!!!

Posted by: yasser15 | December 6, 2007 6:42 PM | Report abuse

Did Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney accomplish his goal of convincing people disinclined to vote for a Mormon to support him?


Posted by: jeffboste | December 6, 2007 6:22 PM | Report abuse

Terrible article - Brownback supporters are hardly numerous or influential. Just part of the Taliban movement.

These people reject Romney because he believes in the Constitution.
It is these moral majority types that are ruining our democracy. What is an independent who wants a qualified fiscal conservative and security conservative to do? The hard right and hard left are destroying this great nation. Today's speech is a breath of fresh air for all americans..GREAT SPEECH-

Posted by: weinbob | December 6, 2007 6:06 PM | Report abuse

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