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Romney, Remembering Gordon Hinckley

Romney used part of a press event at a gas station to reflect on the death of Mormon leader Gordon B. Hinckley. (Reuters).

By Perry Bacon Jr.
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- On the eve of a key primary here, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney brought up a topic he has usually avoided: his Mormon faith.

At a photo-op in front of a Texaco gas station here, scheduled so Romney could blast rival John McCain's proposal for limiting greenhouse gas emissions, Romney addressed his relationship with Gordon B. Hinckley, the Mormon church's president who died yesterday of natural cases at age 97. Romney called Hinckley "one of the great leaders in our faith."

Responding to questions from reporters, Romney spoke of meeting Hinckley when the former governor ran the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City in 2002, and talking to him on the eve of launching his presidential run.

According to Romney, Hinckley told him a presidential run "would be a great experience if you won and a great experience if you lost."

Officials of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the full name of the Mormon Church) have not been involved in Romney's campaign, although fellow Mormons have helped Romney with fundraising and a sizable Mormon vote helped Romney win a caucus in Nevada earlier this month.

While a significant number of Americans say in polls they would not back a Mormon president, it's not clear how much impact Romney's faith has had on the campaign or if news of Hinckley's death will remind voters of Romney's Mormonism and affect tomorrow's vote.

Romney lost the two states where evangelical Christians were a majority of the voters, Iowa and South Carolina, but performed as well as former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee among evangelicals in Michigan. At least a quarter of the voters in tomorrow's primary will be evangelicals, and with Huckabee's campaign not running as aggressively here as in other states, conservative religious voters may be up for grabs.

By Washington Post Editor  |  January 28, 2008; 9:16 AM ET
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