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Mitt dodges questions about LDS faith

Man at forum asks why voters fear Mormonism

Mitt Romney
Mitt Romney

WASHINGTON — Leroy Bernstein wanted to know just what it is about Mormons that scares voters so much, but Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney talked his way around an answer Tuesday at the Republican Jewish Coalition's Victory 2008 presidential forum in Washington.

Romney and other Republican presidential candidates talked about the three I's (Israel, Iran and Iraq), health care, the military and a variety of other topics, but Bernstein, a Jewish pediatrician who has practiced in Las Vegas for 26 years, had just two questions for Romney:

"What is it about the LDS faith that scares people so badly, and is there some way to overcome that fear?" Bernstein asked.

"I'm not the one to ask," Romney responded quickly, adding that it might be better to ask his neighbors, drawing laughs from the audience. Romney is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and is also known in Utah for running the 2002 Winter Olympics.

Romney went on to say that he has been pleased in his conversations with evangelical Christian leaders to find that "the response has been very warm."

"I believe that evangelical Christians are very much open to my candidacy because we share views on so many issues," Romney said. "Are we 100 percent aligned on every issue? Of course not, but we share values."

He said his high poll numbers in early primary states of New Hampshire, Iowa and Nevada are partly because evangelicals understand that they share the same values.

"We believe in God, we believe that all children on Earth are the children of the same maker, we believe that liberty is a gift of God," Romney said.

"Those principles will be part of the values which I bring to the White House if I am fortunate enough to become your president.

"They are not faith specific, they are part of the faith value structure that all Americans subscribe to," he added.

But the doctor was not satisfied that those responses had answered his question, so he asked it again, citing some polls that have shown people would not vote for an LDS candidate.

Romney said poll figures show that people don't want to vote for a Mormon, or someone who is over 70 years old, or divorced many times, but he said those issues are at the back of Republican voters' minds.

"At the front of their minds, they want to know who can lead America to become a more prosperous and secure place," Romney said.

Bernstein said after the speech that he has not made up his mind yet as to who he will support in the Republican primary race. He had no specific ideas on what Romney should do to appeal to those with questions on his faith.

"He's got to do something," Bernstein said. "I am not politically astute enough to know what he has to do, but he has to do something."

Newsweek magazine addressed Romney's religion in an Oct. 8 cover story titled "A Mormon's Journey: The Making of Mitt Romney."

After the article's publication, Romney wrote a letter to the editors of the magazine, saying that while he is proud of his faith, he is "an American running for president, not a Mormon running for president."