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Union Leader - Romney to Give Speech on 'Faith in America'

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Location: Manchester, NH

Union Leader - Romney to Give Speech on 'Faith in America'

Senior Political Reporter

Mitt Romney said yesterday he will not try to defend or explain his Mormonism during his "Faith in America" speech on Thursday. He insisted the speech is not directly connected to questions raised about his religion by evangelicals in early voting states Iowa and South Carolina.

"I don't know that even at this stage that my faith is a significant factor in my race," the Republican former Massachusetts governor told reporters after an economic talk to the Manchester Rotary Club at the downtown Chateau Restaurant. "I just don't think in the final analysis it will be the deciding factor.

"But I do believe ... that faith in America is an important topic and there's a lot of different views about faith in America," he said. He said separation of church and state "is a topic of significance that a presidential candidate ought to take advantage of addressing and that's why I'm doing it."

Romney's membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has not been a significant issue in New Hampshire, where Republican-leaning voters are generally more focused on non-religious issues such as national security, taxes and spending. However, last month voters in the Granite State and Iowa reportedly received anonymous phone calls raising questions about Romney's Mormonism as well as other issues.

Romney has consistently led in New Hampshire polls. But in first-caucus state Iowa, he has seen his lead in the polls narrowed by former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, an ordained Baptist minister who has been attracting broad support among evangelicals and has been trying to court that vote with a television ad calling himself a "Christian leader."

Left unaddressed, the issue could continue to hurt Romney in that early voting state and could have an effect on his standing in New Hampshire.

The question first came up yesterday when former Manchester city official Paul Porter, a registered independent who was among about 80 in the Rotary audience, wanted to know why Romney feels he needs to "explain your religion."

Romney said that during the 1960 campaign, John F. Kennedy, who became the first Catholic president, "really did give the definitive speech on politics and religion. I really don't have anything to add to what he said."

Romney said his own speech will be on a "related but different topic, which is the role of religion in a free society, if you will, the faith in America and the fact that I'm concerned that faith has disappeared in many respects from the public square.

"I'll be talking about faith in America, not my own faith in America, and of course I'll answer the obligatory questions, as (Kennedy) did," Romney said. "But this is not a repeat or an update of the Kennedy speech."

As recently as mid-November, Romney dismissed as unnecessary the idea of delivering a speech on religion. But with Huckabee surging in Iowa, Romney's campaign announced on Sunday that he will address "Faith in America" on Thursday at the George Bush Presidential Library Bush Presidential Library in College Station, Texas.

It was announced as "an opportunity for Governor Romney to share his views on religious liberty, the grand tradition religious tolerance has played in the progress of our nation and how the governor's own faith would inform his presidency if he were elected."

In Manchester yesterday, Romney called it "an important topic to talk about if you think about what our nation needs to consider to maintain it's culture." But it won't be Mormon-specific, he said.

"There are plenty of ways that people can learn about my faith if they want to," he said, recommending people read web sites "sponsored by the faith." He said he is not a "spokesman for my faith" and is "not running for pastor-in-chief."

According to The Associated Press, Mormons believe that authentic Christianity vanished a century after Jesus and was restored through Joseph Smith, whom Mormons consider a prophet. Smith also revised -- and in his view, corrected -- large sections of the Bible in the 19th century, an act of heresy in the eyes of Protestant and Roman Catholic leaders.

Romney said, however, that he will address "our common heritage, our founding fathers, the faith they had in a creator, not a specific religion. The fundamental values were very important to the founding of this country and I believe remain important today."

Romney dismissed a suggestion that religious bigotry remains a political issue in the United States.

"I believe the great majority of Americans select their candidates based on their character, their heart, their vision for America. And I think that as people look at me, they will see a guy who loves his wife, who's raised kids and they'll see my values in my family."

Romney's chief spokesman, Eric Fehrnstrom, said Romney "will talk about his faith. But he's not making a case for why there shouldn't be religious discrimination in the political sphere. That case was made by John Kennedy 40 years ago."

Fehrnstrom said Romney "will talk about the role of religion in the public life of America since the very beginning and he will also talk about how his personal faith would inform his presidency. But he's not giving a primer on Mormon theology." Fehrnstrom declined to elaborate on what Romney means when he says he will discuss how his religion would "inform" his presidency.

In his talk to the Rotary Club, Romney reiterated his views on how to build a stronger economy.

He promised to use his veto power to bring spending under control, fight for a line-item veto that would pass judicial review, undertake an "exhaustive review" of federal programs, allow executive branch agencies to spend less than Congress appropriates for them and ask Congress to require three-fifths majority votes to raise taxes.

Romney promised to find a bipartisan way to reform Social Security, institute "conservative, free-market reforms" in health care and begin using block-grants for federal Medicaid funding.

He said he will lower taxes on all Americans, eliminate taxes on interest, capital gains, and dividends and kill the "death tax."

Romney also said he will increase U.S. competitiveness by lowering the corporate tax rate, cutting regulatory burdens, implementing tort reform and promoting math and science education as well as charter schools and "public-private" education partnerships.

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