When will Romney tell us what he believes?

mitt romney4And does it matter? John Dickerson of Slate has a solid piece that fleshes out Mitt Romney's Mormon issue and provides us with some interesting news tidbits. Dickerson calls on Romney to explain his beliefs in a clear, concise way that gives voters an idea of how his faith will affect his life. According to Dickerson, Romney's people say he will address such questions once he officially announces his candidacy sometime early next year.

Dickerson raises an excellent point that while John Kennedy could plausibly declare that his Catholicism did not affect his public life because of the separation of church and state, Romney is asking people to vote for him because he shares their moral values. What, may we ask, is the source of those moral values? Might it be Romney's Mormon faith?

Here is Dickerson:

Address the Mormon issue, and move on: That's what the Romney camp hopes will happen when he gives his public speech. But talking about these issues in public will be tricky. First, it's one thing to answer questions about Christ. It's another to proclaim your faith in him at length and in public, if you consider your faith a largely private matter. Plus, Romney will have to say enough to inform the confused and comfort the fearful, but not so much that he has to answer doctrinal questions for the rest of his candidacy about exaltation and undergarment.

. . . The best intellectual argument Romney could use isn't available to him, which is that all religions have their odd traditions and beliefs that look highly quirky under close examination. Romney could use my Catholic Church as an example, but in doing so, he'd risk alienating another key constituency. Imagine what fun he could have had with the Charismatics, some of whom speak in tongues or drink snake venom.

In other words, for Romney to be successful, he will have to explain why his faith matters to him and why those Americans who find it strange need to grow up. If he is successful, does anyone have an idea of the effect this could have on Mormons in America?

In related news, The Boston Globe reported that the Rev. Jerry Falwell has issued a statement that has had not endorsed Romney's candidacy. The Jackson (Miss.) Clarion-Ledger reported that Romney said he had the support of Falwell and other conservative religious leaders. A transcript showed that Romney was indeed misquoted, according to the Globe, and that he quoted Falwell as saying he could support candidates of a different faith as long as they agreed on social and moral issues.

Glad we have that cleared up. Here are some of the latest developments in the Romney campaign, as reported by the Globe:

Also yesterday, Romney's political action committee, the Commonwealth PAC, announced that a slew of new advisers had joined his political team, including Kevin Madden, a veteran Washington, D.C., communications specialist. Madden served as spokesman for the last two House majority leaders, John A. Boehner of Ohio and Tom DeLay of Texas, and was part of President Bush's 2004 reelection campaign.

Romney's PAC also announced that two leading economists and former chairmen of President Bush's Council of Economic Advisers, Glenn Hubbard and Greg Mankiw, would advise him on the economy, as will Cesar Conda, a former top domestic policy adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney. The PAC also announced several new advisers in the Southeast.

For Romney to be successful, he will have to connect with potential voters. He will also have to reach key evangelical leaders and give them some political cover if they are to support them. A significant percentage of this will be determined by how reporters cover his "I am a Mormon" speech. Look for the first polling data to give the earliest indicators. From there it will snowball one way or the other.

For the record, the most recent poll found that 43 percent of respondents maintain they will never vote for a Mormon, while 51 percent of evangelicals maintain that stance. If that changes, either way, it's a news story to watch.

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