WASHINGTON — Presidential candidate Mitt Romney won a key vote in his race to the White House. But questions about his former stance on abortion, and even his religion, continue to dog him.
The former governor of Massachusetts emerged as the victor among Republican hopefuls in the Aug. 11 Iowa Straw Poll. He continues to lead in polls in Iowa and New Hampshire. Romney’s camp is determined to demonstrate to voters that he is a viable socially conservative candidate and a man of values.
Meanwhile, Romney weathers constant questioning from the media about his Mormon faith, as the camp has been patiently enduring questions on his ability to win the presidency as a Mormon.
In the race to win Iowa voters, Romney embarked on a whirlwind tour through the state with his popular “Ask Romney Anything” town meetings and a flurry of talk radio interviews.
In a recent interview with WOP talk radio host Jan Mickelson, Romney expressed frustration with the issue of his religion.
“But I’m not running as a Mormon,” said Romney, as the debate continued into a commercial break, after Mickelson brought up his Mormon faith, “and I get a little tired of coming on a show like yours and having it all about Mormon.”
Romney insisted that the conversation about Mormonism was irrelevant.
“I am not going to have a conversation about what my church views are, because that's not the nature of the office that I am running for.”
Mickleson ran a statement on his website declaring that he was only trying to define Mormon ethics.
Although Romney’s comments occurred during a commercial break, the debate was captured on the station’s video cameras, and is widely circulating the internet.
Viewers of the video compare Romney’s comments to John F. Kennedy’s speech to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association in 1960, where he downplayed the influence his Catholic faith would have on the presidential office.
Alex Burgos, a spokesman for the campaign, said that Romney is not running as “preacher-in-chief, but commander-in-chief” and (although he) will draw inspiration from his Mormon values, (he will) not determine his policy position on those values.
Burgos stated that Romney’s stance on important social issues will speak to voters more than his Mormonism.
“Iowa voters are seeing a man of faith who shares their values, which is ultimately very important to voters across the country,” he added.
Republican candidates, fighting for recognition in Iowa, have questioned Romney’s “conversion” to the pro-life cause, reminding voters that as governor of Massachusetts, Romney pledged to support and uphold pro-abortion policies, including taxpayer funding for abortions.
In a recent campaign video, for example, Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., assures voters that he is more committed to pro-life ideals and cites evidence that shows Romney’s pro-choice stance as late as 2005.
“Mitt Romney has flip-flopped so much on the issue of abortion that he has absolutely no idea of where he really stands,” said Rob Wasinger, national campaign manager of Brownback for President in an interview on ABC News. “In just six months, Romney once again flipped on the issue of abortion. It is increasingly apparent that Romney’s views on abortion have nothing to do with protecting the unborn, but have everything to do with protecting his political career.”
Romney’s supporters, however, scoff at attempts to resurrect the candidate’s pro-choice voting record for political reasons.
“Pro-life voters have demonstrated their acceptance of Romney’s positions, evident from the pro-life organizations that have supported Romney,” Burgos said. “Many have come to believe that he is the ideal standard bearer of the pro-life movement.”
Peter Flaherty, also a Romney spokesman, stated that Romney was opposed to expanding federal funding for stem-cell research from embryos, adding that, like President Bush, Romney would have vetoed the stem-cell bill that passed the house in 2005.
Leaders of pro-life organizations, however, say that they are reluctant to endorse a presidential primary candidate.
“I would certainly encourage any candidate that is willing to advance pro-life issues,” said Mildred Jefferson of the Massachusetts Citizens for Life. “While acknowledging moral reservations about abortion, Romney took a politically-expedient pro-abortion position. To move from there to admitting that he was wrong took rare courage.” Said Jefferson, “We welcome all who are willing to re-examine their scientific understanding and their consciences and change to take the pro-life position.”
David O’Steen, executive director for National Right to Life, agreed.
“We usually take a person at their word until they prove us otherwise,” he said. “The pro-life movement always welcomes converts.”
Jefferson said that the widely reported recognition of Romney by the Massachusetts Citizens for Life was not an endorsement for Romney as a presidential candidate.
“A local chapter of our organization presented him with the William D. Mullins Award, which was acknowledging him for his work as governor and approving him for using his time, energy and talent to work for life.”
O’Steen also noted that it was disappointing to watch Republican candidates attacking each other’s pro-life credentials.
“We would rather see Republicans focus their efforts to challenge presidential candidates such as Hillary Clinton, John Edwards and Barack Obama,” he said. “It would also be helpful for them to focus on Rudy Giuliani,” he added, noting that Giuliani is the only Republican presidential candidate that continues to hold a pro-abortion position.
Jefferson also said that she would like to speak to Giuliani..
“We have worked too hard too long to get and maintain a right-to-life plank in the national Republican platform,” she said, “to accept having a pro-abortion candidate win the nomination.”
Charlie Spiering writes from