Inside Politics: Democrats defend Obama after Hatch comment

SALT LAKE CITY — Democratic leaders on Wednesday dismissed Republican Sen. Orrin G. Hatch’s warning to supporters that Democrats might attack the Mormon faith of Mitt Romney during the presidential campaign.

The chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, described that suggestion as “preposterous” and “utter nonsense.” During an interview with MSNBC, she said the party wouldn’t stoop to the same levels as Republicans.

“Let’s remember that President Obama has had so many things hurled at him — birth certificate questions, whether he is or is not a Christian,” Ms. Wasserman Schultz said. “For them to suggest that religion will be injected by President Obama and the Democratic Party, I mean, I think they need to take a look inward at the accusations that their party and their supporters have hurled before they take that step.”

Mr. Hatch made the remark in response to a question at a political event Tuesday night in northern Utah, and repeated the point Wednesday night after a debate in Draper, Utah. Mr. Hatch, also a Mormon, is seeking a seventh term in the Senate.

“For them to say they aren’t going to smear Mitt Romney is baloney,” Mr. Hatch said. “It’s way out of bounds, but that’s what is going to happen.”

More than 60 percent of Utah residents are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Mr. Romney won the state’s 2008 Republican primary with 91 percent of the vote.

ILLINOIS

GOPRep. Johnson drops re-election bid

URBANA — Longtime Illinois Congressman Timothy V. Johnson says he’s dropping his re-election campaign and plans to retire when his current term ends.

The six-term Republican made the announcement Thursday. He cited family obligations.

The 65-year-old Mr. Johnson has never fit the mold of the reliable, party-line Republican. But his decision was a surprise and has left his party scrambling to fend off Democratic efforts to pick up seats and retake the U.S. House.

Mr. Johnson was first elected to Congress in 2000, and he built a reputation for breaking with his party on certain issues.

Last year, he called for quick ends to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and last month backed Ron Paul for president. Mr. Johnson also is known for trying to personally call each of his constituents.

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