Romney to Give “Mormon Speech”

The MItt Romney campaign has decided that Romney will give a speech 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.” The speech will be at the George Bush Presidential Library in Texas, on Thursday.
The AP says the speech will “[explain] his relatively unknown faith to voters,” and draws the inevitable comparison to John Kennedy’s “Catholic speech.” Romney’s advisers have been debating whether he should give such a speech for a long time, and they may have come down in favor of doing so in part out of concern that Mike Huckabee may be getting traction with his overt and implicit attacks on Romney in Iowa.
As I’ve said before, I’m skeptical that this is a good idea. For Romney to give a speech on his religion may just open the door to, and legitimize, further attacks on his religion by his opponents. Further, the more Romney couches his speech in terms of “separation of church and state,” the more his opponents can claim that scurrilous attempts to impose a religious test are really legitimate discussions of public policy.
In my opinion, the most effective way for Romney to deal with the Mormon “issue” is to continue to present himself positively to voters in Iowa and elsewhere. I think the vast majority of voters would conclude that, whatever they may think about Mormonism in general–if anything–Mitt Romney seems like a pretty good guy.
UPDATE: This may be why Romney thinks he needs to talk about religion: the latest Des Moines Register poll has Huckabee with a five-point lead. I still think it’s a mistake. For one thing, if it’s really true that Huckabee has gained ground because of concerns over Romney’s religion, stimulating more discussion of Mormonism will make that situation worse, not better. Moreover, I don’t think these polls are very meaningful. Iowa is a caucus state. It makes no difference how Iowans answer pollsters’ questions over the telephone; the question is, whose supporters will bother to show up at the caucuses? Romney has an excellent Iowa organization in place and his resources vastly exceed Huckabee’s. He can concentrate on identifying his supporters and encouraging them to show up, in a way that Huckabee can’t. That’s where his focus should be.
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