Has Mitt Romney Converted the Christian Right?
Around the State
In an almost miraculous twist to the Republican presidential contest, Mitt Romney is converting Christian conservatives to his side in Florida. It's an eye-popping development since many on the religious right consider Romney neither Christian nor particularly conservative.
Four years ago, Mike Huckabee, a former Baptist preacher, hounded Romney over religious doctrine. At one point, he not-so-innocently asked if Mormons believed Satan was Jesus' brother.
Wary of the LDS faith which many pastors characterize as more cultish than Christian, evangelicals steered clear of Romney and helped deliver the state for John McCain.
This year, pragmatism has replaced religious litmus tests. Romney is now viewed by many evangelicals as the GOP's best hope for reclaiming the White House.
"The thinking goes that we have to be practical. It also might be called desperation," said Anthony Verdugo, head of the Christian Family Coalition.
The Romney campaign announced this week that more than a dozen Floridians with religious and social conservative ties are supporting him. (See story here.)
Verdugo, who prefers Michele Bachmann, isn't on that roster. But he respects several who are, including Dave Weldon, the former Republican congressman from Melbourne, who is leading the effort.
Fundamentalist and evangelical Christians make up at least a quarter of the GOP vote, and Romney is determined not to let the flock slip away this time. By shoring up this section of the base, Romney hopes to build on his aura of inevitability.
"People are being worn down," says Verdugo, who estimates that Romney has captured 50 percent of social conservatives in the party.
More logical choices for Christian conservatives -- notably Bachmann and Rick Perry -- burst onto the scene, but then faded. With slick debate performances and virtually no attention paid to the Mormon issue this time around, Romney has stayed atop the polls.
Florida's religious right isn't all in, however.
Patricia Sullivan, a Christian conservative and statewide tea party leader, noted that one of the top names on Romney's list is state Sen. Anitere Flores, who supported Democratic Sen. Gary Siplin's version of the DREAM Act. The measure, which failed at the 2011 Legislature, would have granted in-state college tuition to illegal aliens.
"Why would I be surprised by her endorsement of Romney?" asks Sullivan, who favors Herman Cain.
Other skeptics wonder about Romney's staying power with the Christian right when he has waffled on such hot-button issues as abortion and homosexual marriage. (Current scorecard: He was against them before he was for them, before he was against them again.)
"It's surprising to see religious conservatives line up behind a former pro-choice, gay marriage candidate," one critic said of the former Massachusetts governor.
Verdugo suspects that many Christian voters, focused on 2012, see Romney as the best prospect to unseat a president whose liberal social agenda and heterodox religious views incubated by the Rev. Jeremiah Wright are simply beyond the pale.
"Romney was viewed with suspicion last time. But we hadn't had four years of Barack Obama yet," Verdugo said.
Contact Kenric Ward at firstname.lastname@example.org or (772) 801-5341.