(CNN) – Montana's Democratic governor defended himself from criticism Monday over remarks he made last week that appeared to tie Mitt Romney, the likely Republican presidential nominee, to the practice of polygamy within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer said on CNN's "Anderson Cooper 360" he was trying to point out Romney struggles in connecting with Latino voters when he claimed Romney's "family came from a polygamy commune in Mexico" in an interview with The Daily Beast.
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"People are taking this far away from where I was discussing," Schweitzer said. "I was saying that Mitt Romney currently has a problem with Latino voters. And it is ironic that his father had come from Mexico. You could think he could embrace his Latino roots."
Some Mormon families moved to Mexico in the 19th century to escape religious persecution in the United States, and many men who moved had multiple wives. The LDS church outlawed polygamy in 1890, but men with multiple wives were able to escape prosecution by moving across the border.
Romney's ancestors settled in an area 180 miles south of the Mexico-United States border. The candidate's father, George, who served as governor of Michigan and ran for president in the 1960s, was born in 1907 in the Mexican town of Colonia Dublan, in the state of Chihuahua. Neither Romney's father nor his grandfather were involved in polygamous marriages.
There are still about 40 members of the Romney family living in Colonia Juarez, some of whom are the presidential candidate's first and second cousins.
In the interview with The Daily Beast, Schweitzer made a point to say he wasn't connecting the candidate Romney to the practice of marrying multiple wives.
"I am not alleging by any stretch that Romney is a polygamist and approves of [the] polygamy lifestyle, but his father was born into [a] polygamy commune in Mexico," Schweitzer said, according to The Daily Beast.
Romney responded to the Montana governor's remarks, saying in an interview on Fox News: "My dad's dad was not a polygamist."
He continued, "My dad grew up in a family with a mom and a dad and a few brothers and one sister. They lived in Mexico and lived a very nice life there." He explained they left the country at the start of the Mexican Revolution.
In Monday's interview with CNN, Schweitzer said people misinterpreted his remarks to be anti-Mormon.
"People took it way off base," Schweitzer said. "I didn't say anything about any religion. As you mentioned earlier, the Mormon religion hasn't accepted polygamy in 120 years. As I said before, Mitt Romney or his family that I know of doesn't accept polygamy today."
Schweitzer said his point was about a "hard right turn" Romney took when discussing immigration during the GOP presidential primary.
"His opponents were criticizing him because he was saying if you're an 85-year-old grandmother and you didn't have all of your I's dotted and T's crossed, and you're a great-grandmother in the United States, you should self-deport," Schweitzer said, referring to a remark Romney made at a Republican presidential debate in January.
Ralph Reed, founder of the conservative Faith and Freedom Coalition, said Schweitzer was waging a quiet effort to discredit Romney because of his religion.
"When you bring up something like this and then the Obama campaign is saying he's weird and secretive, this looks like whatever your motive or intention was, it looks like a deliberate attempt to engage in a whisper campaign to turn voters off from Romney because of his faith," Reed said on CNN.