Romney Brings Up Religion To Attract Social Conservatives

Feb 6, 2012
Originally published on February 7, 2012 7:52 am

GOP presidential front-runner Mitt Romney is reaching out to social conservatives in a new way. At a rally in the gym at Arapahoe High School in Centennial, Colo., Monday night, Romney rolled out some new material: the rights given to people by God.

"I am just distressed as I watch, as I watch our president try and infringe upon those rights," Romney said to the capacity crowd. "The first amendment of the Constitution provides the right to worship in the way of our own choice."

Romney cited a Supreme Court case related to the firing of a teacher at a religious school, and a recent decision by the department of Health and Human Services to require religious institutions like schools and hospitals to cover birth control pills as part of the insurance provided to employees.

That includes "contraceptives, morning-after pills — in other words, abortive pills," Romney said, venturing into territory he typically doesn't address on the campaign trail.

"Think what that does to people in faiths that do not share those views. This is a violation of conscience. We must have a president who is willing to protect America's first right — a right to worship God according to the dictates of our own conscience," Romney said.

The crowd cheered wildly, one of several times over the course of what was otherwise a variation on his standard stump speech.

The new language seemed targeted directly at social conservatives — voters who have tended to favor Rick Santorum and at times Newt Gingrich. On the same day, the Romney campaign went after Santorum in a conference call, questioning his conservative credentials.

In that call, Romney surrogate and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty admitted that the campaign considers Santorum a threat.

"He's a credible candidate and deserves to be, you know, right in the middle of the back-and-forth between campaigns, and I think that's what you see happen," Pawlenty said.

Recent polling shows Santorum in the lead in the nonbinding Minnesota caucuses, with Romney still a favorite in Colorado's caucuses.

When asked whether Romney's socially conservative turn had anything to do with his opponents, advisers insisted these are just issues of the day.

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Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning, I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. Four years ago today, a candidate named Mitt Romney dropped out of the race for president. His political fortunes are much improved this time. He's won twice in a row, two contests, though his GOP opponents are not giving up.

We have two reports this morning leading up to caucuses tonight in Minnesota and Colorado. We start with NPR's Tamara Keith, who's traveling with the Romney campaign in Colorado.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: At a rally last night in the packed Arapahoe High School gym in Centennial Colorado, Mitt Romney rolled out some new material. His subject: the rights given to people by God.

MITT ROMNEY: I am, I'm just distressed as I watch, as I watch our president try and infringe upon those rights. The First Amendment of the Constitution provides the right to worship in the way of our own choice.

KEITH: Romney cited a Supreme Court case related to the firing of a teacher at a religious school and a recent decision by the Department of Health and Human Services to require religious institutions, like schools and hospitals, to cover birth control pills as part of the insurance provided to employees.

ROMNEY: Contraceptives, morning after pills - in other words, abortive pills and the like - at no cost. Think what that does to people in faiths that do not share those views. This is a violation of conscience. We must have a president who is willing to protect America's first right - a right to worship God according to the dictates of our own conscience.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

KEITH: The new language seemed targeted directly at social conservatives - voters who have tended to favor Rick Santorum and at times Newt Gingrich. This came on the same day the Romney campaign went after Santorum in a conference call, questioning his conservative credentials. In that same call, Romney surrogate and former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty admitted the campaign considers Santorum a threat.

TIM PAWLENTY: He's a credible candidate, and deserves to be, you know, right in the middle of the back-and-forth between the campaigns, and I think that's what you see happening.

KEITH: When asked whether Romney's socially conservative turn had anything to do with his opponents, advisors insisted these are just issues of the day. Recent polling shows Santorum in the lead in the non-binding Minnesota caucus, with Romney still a favorite here in Colorado. Four years ago, Romney won the caucuses in Colorado handily, and Rick Murray of Highlands Ranch is sure he will do it again tonight.

RICK MURRAY: The momentum has started to turn in Mitt Romney's favor and it will grow from here.

KEITH: Murray is a financial broker and a local Republican activist. Sitting in the gym bleachers in Centennial, Murray stands out in his powder blue Romney T-shirt. He supported Romney in 2008, and even served as a delegate at the convention. He hopes to do it again this year, though with his candidate winning the nomination this time.

MURRAY: He's the frontrunner. He's the top dog right now. And he's going to go all the way to Tampa Bay and we're going to - he's going to have that thing sewed up long before we get to Tampa Bay.

KEITH: And it's clear Romney wants to look right past the convention too. In recent days, he's gone back to ignoring his GOP rivals, mostly leaving the criticism to surrogates and aiming all his fire at the man he sees as his chief opponent.

ROMNEY: This president has failed. That's why he has to go. And we need a new president.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

KEITH: But there are three other men, still arguing they should be the one to take the fight to President Obama.

Tamara Keith, NPR News, Boulder, Colorado. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.