- Associated Press - Saturday, October 8, 2011

 

WASHINGTON (AP) — This year, pocketbook issues seem to matter more than pulpit preaching among cultural conservatives and at least some are willing to embrace Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney, who many have long looked at skeptically for his reversals on some of their priorities and his Mormon faith.

“No one’s perfect,” says Larry Smith of Newport Beach, Calif., one of thousands of conservatives gathering in Washington this weekend to hear from the slate of GOP candidates at the annual Values Voters Summit. Smith cast the choice before him as a compromise, and says he’s leaning toward the former Massachusetts governor. Even though Romney has strayed from conservative orthodoxy on some social issues in the past, he still posts a strong record as a businessman.

“He has the skills to help us on this particular issue, at this particular time,” Smith said.

By that, he means the economy, with its stubbornly high 9.1 percent unemployment rate and sluggish growth.

If interviews with conference attendees are any indication, that’s what is giving Romney his best shot at winning over some of the social and Christian conservatives who he failed to attract in his first campaign in 2008. He couldn’t overcome skepticism of his Mormon faith and his record of reversing himself on issues like abortion rights and gay rights.

Both subjects are starting to percolate in this campaign.

In a speech to the conservatives Friday, Texas Gov. Rick Perry criticized Romney for his shifting position on abortion, without ever using his chief rival’s name.

“For some candidates, pro-life is an election-year slogan to follow the prevailing political winds,” Perry said in a speech that at times felt more like a sermon than a political pitch.

Later, the pastor who earlier had endorsed and introduced Perry spoke to reporters — and called Mormonism a cult.

Rick Perry’s a Christian. He’s an evangelical Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ,” said Robert Jeffress, senior pastor at First Baptist Church in Dallas. “Mitt Romney’s a good moral person, but he’s not a Christian. Mormonism is not Christianity. It has always been considered a cult by the mainstream of Christianity.”

Perry quickly distanced himself from the comment.

Asked by reporters Friday night in Tiffin, Iowa, whether Mormonism is a cult, Perry replied, “No.”

Romney was speaking Saturday to the gathering.

It came same week that former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie both announced they would not run for president, leaving donors and grass-roots conservatives up for grabs — and giving Romney an opportunity to try to cast himself as the candidate who can appeal to a broad swath of the GOP.

Story Continues →