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Romney Courts Christian Conservatives

Continuing his courtship of social conservaties, Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney will travel to Cedar Rapids, Iowa on May 8 to meet with the Iowa Christian Alliance.

The group, formerly known as the Iowa Christian Coalition, is seen as an influential force among the state's social conservatives -- a key voting bloc in the first-in-the-nation presidential caucuses. Steve Scheffler, president of the ICA, said the group does not keep membership numbers but has gorwn substantially in the past 5 years.

Romney will be the second 2008 aspirant to join a house party hosted by ICA members, according to Scheffler. Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee met with the members of the organization on March 6, and several other candidates weighing the 2008 race, including Sens. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and Sam Brownback (R-Kans.) have expressed interest in meeting with ICA. Scheffler said the organization sent out a letter to all of the potential candidates in early 2006 asking them to take time to meet with ICA. While the group cannot formally endorse a candidate, being on the good side of the group (and its members) would be a major boon to any of the potential candidates.

An ICA online newsletter announcing the Romney house party urges attendees to ask "tough questions" now or miss the "opportunity to make these canddiates accountable to the pro-family movement."

Romney is sure to come under questioning in regards his Mormon faith, which is viewed skeptically by many evangelical Christians. But, during a visit to South Carolina in late February, Romney said that he did not anticipate major hurdles in the evangelical community due to his beliefs. "People want to see their leaders as people of faith ... they don't put much significance in the brand," he said.

Convincing religious voters that he shares their values is one of Romney's primary tasks between now and January 2008. He does not enjoy a natural foothold in the state -- as he does in other early voting states like New Hampshire and Michigan -- and could leverage support from the party's ideological right to make a strong showing.

The Iowa Republican caucuses traditionally have been dominated by religious conservatives, who have helped propel candidates who share their worldview to surprisingly strong showings. In 1988, the Rev. Pat Robertson came from nowhere to finish second in the caucuses behind Kansas Sen. Bob Dole. Eight years later Pat Buchanan, bolstered by support from religious conservatives, placed second behind Dole, who went on to win the GOP nomination.

While first impressions are sure to matter, Romney will get other chances to court this key constituency. Scheffler says he is planning a statewide forum in May (tentatively scheduled for May 12 at the HyVee Conference Center in Des Moines) where he will invite all of the 2008 Republican candidates to talk issues.

By Chris Cillizza  |  April 11, 2006; 3:48 PM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2008  
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Comments

Anyone Republican who doubts that Romney is electable should try running for statewide office in Massachussetts. He's fiscally and socially conservative, has practical (read- not government) executive experience, and will out-fundraise anyone with the exception of McCain.
It would be nice to have a true fiscal conservative as president. Our Republican majority seem to have gotten away from their conservative roots- one need only look at the $109B budget in the Senate (Bush asked for $92B)- to be assured that current congressional Republicans do not live by the letter or spirit of the Reagan revolution or even the Contract with America.
McCain (support for the prescription drug benefit notwithstanding) and Romney are two great candidates to restore fiscal responsibility to Washington.
Socially, they both ought to please the evangelical base. McCain has been strongly pro-life and mildly pro-traditional marriage. Romney has been mildly pro-life and strongly pro-traditional marriage.

Posted by: fiscalhawk | May 8, 2006 1:36 PM | Report abuse

Texas,
I agree that the issue of abortion is fundamentally different depending on the age of the fetus. I also agree with you that people cannot (or should not) impose their personal religious beliefs on their neighbors. In general, I feel that you are correct concerning this controversy.
But when we look at this issue from the perspective of someone who is pro-life or pro-choice, it is impossible to deny that their reasons for being such are without merit.
How can a government intrude into the most personal aspects of a woman's life to say what she can or can't do with her body. I for one am very uncomfortable when anyone compels me to do anything. And as you have said, no one should be allowed to force his own religious beliefs upon someone else.
People who are pro-life do not see this as an issue of woman's rights or of government infringing on private affairs of its citizenry. Afterall, there are laws against murder. And the murder/abortion comparison is not (even from a purely secular vantage point) at all inappropriate. Fetuses may be less sentient than are we; they may live an entirely dependent, parasitic existence, but by any definition of the word, they are alive. It is unjust (but it is nature that is at fault) that women are unevenly burdened by unplanned pregnancies, but inconvenience is not justification for taking a life.
While I agree with you, I sometimes feel that there is more philosophical, logical merit to either of the extreme positions.

Posted by: BFair | April 14, 2006 12:26 AM | Report abuse

I continue to be puzzled by why people see a contradiction between being personally opposed to abortion and still being in favor of keeping abortion legal. It seems to me that "pro-choice" and "pro-life" are both extreme positions. One cannot force others to act in accordance with one's beliefs in what is clearly a personal decision in early pregnancy. In later pregnancy, the equation changes because because there is unambiguously a baby involved, and the law must protect the defenseless. In fact, as I understand the polls, this is exactly what the overall American public favors - unrestricted abortion rights early in pregnancy, with tight restrictions in later pregnancy. I don't see a contradiction in Romney's stated personal opposition to abortion and his declining to embrace the entire "pro-life" program.

Posted by: TexasMormonDemocrat | April 13, 2006 12:39 PM | Report abuse

I would love, as a Democrat, to run against Mitt Romney in 2008. I like our chances against a Morman from Mass. Any Democrat, except maybe Hillary (who I don't think will win) will destroy Romney to pieces. John Edwards, Evan Bayh, or Mark Warner would have fun running against Romney and making the Republicans look like fools that they are witht the American public at this point.

Posted by: PopulistDemocrat | April 12, 2006 8:04 PM | Report abuse

Two points:

Romney just bought himself some gravitas (and probably criticism) for the Massachusetts health bill he just signed - along with a few line item vetos.

Romney's religion should not matter. I am a moderate Republican and have no problem with politicians reaching out to religious groups; what I want in a president is some sign of a thought process, of a policy analyst as well as potential for an excellent manager. He could be a part of Krishna Consciousness for all I care.

Posted by: Mitt | April 12, 2006 2:52 PM | Report abuse

In GOP circles, candidates for President "cater to" the social conservatives and anti-tax crowds, which some folks call the far right. Then, if the GOP candidate is elected, much of the socially conservative agenda gets dropped or minimized. In Dem circles, candidates for President cater to trial lawyers, the teacher's union and the AARP. Then, if the Democrat candidate is elected, you can forget about tort reform, education reform and entitlement reform. That's far more dangerous to the future of the republic than some socially conservative rhetoric that ends up having no substantial effect on policy.

Posted by: Mark | April 12, 2006 2:34 PM | Report abuse

Anarchy Bunny posted a very intelligent and honest observation. For good or bad, powerful special interest groups from NARAL and teacher's unions to the NRA and Focus on the Family wield an unproportional ammount of power on our politics and policies. Pandering to such groups in order to get elected may sound unadmirable (and it probably is) but the alternative, as experience has taught us, is most likely losing. If you are running for office and are a good and decent person, the reason you are running is that you feel that you can do more public good than any of your opponents. Can choosing the lesser of two evils (pandering instead of losing) be forgiven when it is altruism that encourages it?
Mitt Romney ran for governor as an opperationally pro-choice candidate. He agreed to not push for any legislation making it harder to acquire an abortion. The alternative would have been a democratic governor who may have pushed for further liberalization of abortion laws. For those angry at Gov. Romney for changing positions on abortion, consider this: perhaps Mitt Romney (who personally opposes abortion) looked at his options and decided that he could do more good by compromising (his values?) than by losing.
It's something we all should be aware of. Mitt's no idiot.

Posted by: BFair | April 12, 2006 1:56 PM | Report abuse

Intrepid Liberal--great line!

Also, I agree with Fair and Balanced. Jesus, to my understanding as I am not religious, preached love, but these religious right people seem full of hate and venom. For the religious right to call liberals "angry" is very hypocritical in my opinion. And, to my memory, right-wing talk radio hosted by people such as Rush Limbaugh created this environment with their angry, hostile, and threatening rhetoric against those they disagreed with.

Posted by: Jason | April 12, 2006 1:47 PM | Report abuse

There's no way Romney could run for reelection in Mass. and also run for President. The Mass. and GOP primary electorates are simply too different to run for both. If Romney had no presidential ambitions, he very well would have run for reelection in Mass. and won the election.

Posted by: Mark | April 12, 2006 11:46 AM | Report abuse

The fact that Romney will not face the voters of Massachusetts for re-election this year significantly weakens his position. Mark Warner constitutionally could not run for re-election, but Romney could and chooses to dodge the bullet. That's not presidential timber.

Posted by: Steve | April 12, 2006 10:52 AM | Report abuse

To FairAndBalanced: And yet the Republicans keep winning elections. Also, it's not as if Democrats don't have to kiss the asses of their own lunatics. If anything, the past few elections have (sadly) shown us that the Republican fringe message resonates much more than that of the Democratic fringe. Both parties comes with a ton of baggage for winning their respective primaries, and I wouldn't believe for a second that the majority of the current Democratic Presidential field wouldn't say or do anything to get power.

Posted by: Anarchy Bunny | April 12, 2006 9:29 AM | Report abuse

Mitt or otherwise, I just find it hilarious that every single Republican has to kiss the ass of the Christian Right regardless of how they feel on a wide variety of issues. That little "R" sure does come with a heckuva lot of baggage. It just goes to show that the GOP is stocked to the rim with people who will literally DO or SAY anything to get power.

And I really, honestly do feel sorry for the poor Republican masses who are so easily swayed by their own personal (and admirable) connection to their faith that they will vote for these Anti-Christs. Jesus taught peace, brotherhood, helping those less fortunate, etc... Any clear thinking individual can tell that real Christians should be horrified by the Neocon radical right.

Posted by: FairAndBalanced? | April 12, 2006 7:52 AM | Report abuse

Romney has changed on abortion, but so have many other presidential candidates of recent vintage. George H. W. Bush was pro-choice at one time. Al Gore was pro-life at one time. Even though Senator McCain has been consistently pro-life, I would trust Romney more to appoint strict constructionists to the courts. McCain craves adulation too much to stick to conservative judicial choices. If Romney does win the GOP nomination, he'll be tough to beat. He'll seem extremely qualified for the job of President.

Posted by: Mark | April 11, 2006 10:28 PM | Report abuse

I have no problem with Romney's Mormon beliefs. I also believe that he is a fundamentally decent person. However, what I can tolerate are his flip-flops on abortion and gay marriage. He ran as pro-abortion in both 1994 and 2002 and in 2002 even courted the support of NARAL, an organization that supports partial-birth abortion. I've often read his defenders say things like "well he had to support abortion in his race for governor of Massachusetts in order to get elected."

What is the point of getting elected if you don't stand for anything on the fundamental questions involving human life? Whether one is pro-abortion or pro-life, one can only be deeply troubled by someone who fli-flops simply to win elections. I just don't trust Romney.

Posted by: Fran | April 11, 2006 9:10 PM | Report abuse

Romney has the authenticity of a hologram.

http://www.intrepidliberaljournal.blogspot.com

Posted by: Intrepid Liberal Journal | April 11, 2006 8:51 PM | Report abuse

Mitt Romney's desire to woo conservative evangelical Christians in Iowa will be interesting to watch. So many of those conservatives see Mormonism as a cult, with its historic and current-day tacit approval of polygamy, and its other outside-the-mainstream religious premises. It would be pleasing to see the conservative evangelical movement implode from within, with each element claiming to be ideologically purer than the others. I suspect that even Reverands Falwell and Robertson would find Mormonism too outrageous to stomach.

Posted by: Kim Smith | April 11, 2006 6:42 PM | Report abuse

Religious bigotry on the right is always exaggerated by people on the left. Governor Romney has led a Christian life. He has been devoted to the same woman his entire adult life; he neither drinks nor smokes; he believes in traditional marriage; he has lived a life a charity and public service as well as using his gifts to succeed in the business world. He's a friend to the religious right in a way that Senator McCain can never be again. Senator Allen will do well in neither Iowa nor New Hampshire, and then his money will dry up. It will be McCain against Romney, in which case I'd bet on the latter beating the former.

Posted by: Mark | April 11, 2006 6:39 PM | Report abuse

Mitt can talk all he wants but there is NO WAY that folks like Pat Robertson (or Satan as his friends call him) will ever back Romney. The largest threat to the Evangilical movement is the Mormon movement and vice-versa.

Posted by: Andy R | April 11, 2006 5:25 PM | Report abuse

Quote of the year:

"People want to see their leaders as people of faith ... they don't put much significance in the brand."

Attaboy, Mitt. Way to demonstrate that the spiritual life has a meaning beyond this world. Use the language of detergent salesmen. (To reach the Jesus demo you gotta think market segmentation and penetration, it’s right there in the book of Madison...Avenue, that is.)

Can we get any more cynical?

Actually, yes we can...today on EWM, a parody homage to my favorite MOC: "Tancredo Calls for Catapult to Return Aliens."
http://www.eyewitnessmuse.com/musings.php?p=203

(Keep up the good work Chris...I'm hooked on the Fix!)

Posted by: The Eyewitness Muse | April 11, 2006 4:59 PM | Report abuse

Romney would have lost a re-election campaign in his home state this year. He's damaged goods. Please GOP, be dumb enough to nominate him. (Actually, I'd prefer Frist, but Romney is a close second.) He's the GOP's Mark Warner; golden boy of the pundits, but no charisma and not good worthy of the main stage.

Posted by: Greg in NY | April 11, 2006 4:55 PM | Report abuse

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