Paul M. Weyrich, an elder statesman of the religious right, said yesterday that he believes Mitt Romney has made a sincere conversion from a supporter of abortion rights and gay rights into an opponent of both.
"I believe that he has flip-flopped in our direction, if you will - the direction of the values voters - and I think he will stay there," Weyrich said in a telephone interview, the first since he endorsed Romney. "I think he has a good deal of presence and ability to explain things, and so I think he's the candidate this year."
Weyrich, a founder of The Heritage Foundation and the Moral Majority, on Monday became the latest in a string of conservative activists to endorse Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, in the Republican presidential primary. Yesterday, Weyrich said he had also considered endorsing Mike Huckabee or Fred Thompson but wanted, above all, to stop Rudy Giuliani, a supporter of abortion rights who is leading in several national polls.
"In analyzing the primary situation, I believe it's going to come down to a contest between Giuliani and Romney and I don't want Giuliani," Weyrich said from his home in Virginia. "I feel that it would be a mistake for the Republicans to nominate him - so I decided that Romney would be the better of the two."
Romney telephoned Weyrich several times this year as part of his campaign to woo conservatives who are concerned that during his 1994 run for the US Senate, he supported abortion rights and pledged to be a better advocate for gay rights than the Democratic incumbent, Edward M. Kennedy. Romney now repudiates both stances.
"I can only take a man at his word, and I questioned him on that, as did others, and I was satisfied that his conversion was a sincere one," Weyrich said. "I think he's going to not only stay in those positions, but also is going to fight for them. I could be wrong, but I don't think so."
Romney has also been trying to allay concerns among some Christian conservatives who consider his Mormon faith heretical.
"I've been pointing out to people we're not electing him to be head of the theology department of a Baptist university; we're electing him in a secular context," Weyrich said. "Were it in a religious context, I would be very much opposed to him, because I don't agree with his religion, but it's not relevant in my opinion. He has a church that very much believes in family values and I think will be helpful to him in getting his thinking straight."
Michael Levenson can be reached at email@example.com.