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Some urge Romney to discuss his faith

Poll finds backing to air issue amid evangelical doubt

A new survey shows Republican leaders want Mitt Romney to give a speech addressing his Mormonism, even as a prominent evangelical supporter is urging fellow Christian conservatives to look past the religion of the former governor.

In a National Journal survey of 83 GOP "insiders," who include lobbyists, party activists, and strategists, 59 percent said they wanted Romney to give a speech soon on his religion, like the one John F. Kennedy delivered in 1960 on his Catholicism before he was elected the nation's first Catholic president. When the Journal polled 79 Democratic insiders, 44 percent said they believed Romney should give such a speech.

Romney spokesman Kevin Madden said in a statement yesterday, "Governor Romney has previously said he was considering addressing the issue of faith and values, but he has not yet made that decision. The decision is a personal one that remains under consideration."

Meanwhile, Mark DeMoss, a Romney supporter and Southern Baptist evangelical, has sent a letter to 150 fellow conservatives and evangelicals that seeks to rally their support for Romney and allay their concerns about his Mormonism. The former Massachusetts governor is seeking to become the first Mormon to lead the United States.

DeMoss, an Atlanta public relations executive, says in the five-page letter that he wants to "galvanize support around Mitt Romney, so Rudy Giuliani isn't the unintended beneficiary of our divided support among several other candidates - or, worse yet, so we don't abdicate the presidency [and the future of the Supreme Court] over to Hillary Clinton."

"The question shouldn't be, 'could I vote for a Mormon,' but, 'could I vote for this Mormon?' " DeMoss writes in the letter, first reported by The New York Times.

Romney has been stepping up his efforts to woo evangelicals in response to some prominent Christian conservative leaders who threatened last week to back a third-party candidate. Most prominently, James Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family, said that he and other social conservatives had agreed to support a "minor party" candidate if the Republicans choose a presidential nominee who is not conservative enough.

In the letter, DeMoss invokes the name and words of Jerry Falwell, the late televangelist and founder of the Moral Majority who DeMoss said had accepted his invitation to meet with Romney, Romney's wife, Ann, and about 15 other evangelicals for an "intimate discussion" at the Romneys' home in Belmont last year. Falwell died in May.

According to DeMoss, "Jerry was one of several that day who said, 'Governor, I don't have a problem with your being Mormon, but I want to ask you how you would deal with Islamic jihadists . . . or with illegal immigration . . . or how you would choose justices for the Supreme Court . . .' and so on."

DeMoss continues: "While Jerry Falwell never told me how he intended to vote in the upcoming election, I think I know how he would not have voted. I also know he would not have 'sat this one out' and given up on the Supreme Court for a generation. I am wholeheartedly convinced that Mitt Romney can be trusted to uphold the values and principles most important to me as a political conservative and an evangelical Christian."

Michael Levenson can be reached at mlevenson@globe.com.

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