November 9th, 2007
04:30 PM ET
15 years ago

Inside Mitt Romney's private pitch to evangelicals

The audio recording provides a rare glimpse into Romney's private efforts to win over evangelical Christians skeptical of his Mormon faith.

COLUMBIA, South Carolina (CNN) - At an invitation-only meeting held Tuesday with students, faculty and alumni of the fundamentalist Bob Jones University, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney put aside questions about his Mormon faith and focused instead on what he described as his shared values with Christians, according to an audio recording of the meeting obtained by CNN.

Although Romney has often spoken publicly about his efforts to allay the fears of evangelical Christians over his Mormon faith, the audio recording of the event provides a rare glimpse into Romney's private efforts to court the constituency many see as crucial to his presidential bid.

"I get good support from evangelical Christian leadership around the country, you know, despite a difference in religion," Romney told the audience of evangelicals gathered at the Greenville Hilton.

"I think it was Dr. Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention who said we're not electing a pastor-in-chief, and so I appreciate that support and just you remember that when you go to vote," he said with a laugh.

The recording, which was done without the knowledge of the Romney campaign or those from the Bob Jones community in attendance, was provided to CNN by an alumnus of the fundamentalist Christian school who was invited to the private meeting, which was described in an e-mail he also provided as "designed to specifically reach out to members of the Bob Jones University family."

Read the entire story and listen to the audio recording here.

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- CNN South Carolina Producer Peter Hamby

Filed under: Mitt Romney • South Carolina
soundoff (123 Responses)
  1. Dave, Richmond, VA

    To Bryan in Firestone, CO

    I am Mormon, baptized 11 years ago, and currently serve in a bishopric. I was non-committal until recently but leaning toward Mitt because of his business acumen. This business with courting the Bob Jones types turned me totally away from his campaign and the next closest candidate I support is Ron Paul. So, I am glad you know me well enough that you know my religion and you also know that I have no issue with "fine". I do have an issue with him saying "fine" since he didn't say he disagreed with the LDS faith, but the LDS faith was wrong. As a member of the Church in Baptist-land like me would not try to ingratiate themselves to someone of that ilk. Bryan, please don't think that every Mormon is going to vote for Mitt Romney. I do have a brain and think for myself and have voted for the democratic presidential candidate the last four elections. I also hope that Mitt Romney in courting the votes of these misguided folks who hate us out of blind ignorance doesn't take the Mormon vote for granted.

    November 9, 2007 05:20 pm at 5:20 pm |
  2. J Houston, TX

    "The Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion." Ratified during Washington's term by the Senate. The US is NOT a theocracy, and never
    should be.

    Technically, all discussions of law involve some form of ethics. Most discussions of ethics involve religion. The US Constitution does not call for a separation of church and state, but that the State may not establish a Church (ie the Church of England). Don't get me wrong, it's interpretted that this means to keep things separate, but lets not play pretend that morality can ever be separated from many people's faith...and frankly if they truly believe why should it be? There is nothing wrong with religion. I am tired of people cramming both sides in my face. Voting based on your values is important, but voting only based on faith is foolish. We are dealing with people, not God.

    November 9, 2007 05:34 pm at 5:34 pm |
  3. caedmon

    Considering the racist history of both Bob Jones U and the Mormon Church, they can have each other.

    The LDS church maintains a racist doctrine which teaches that blacks were “less valiant” spirits in what Mormons believe to have been a pre-existence. Church leaders have taught for 175 years that being born with black skin and features (the mark of Cain) was punishment by God for their “less than faithful” actions. Based on this doctrine, the Mormon Church prohibited blacks from holding the LDS Priesthood until 1978 when it lifted the ban following tremendous public pressure including a threat to revoke their tax exempt status.

    Romney has publicly stated that he is not a “cafeteria” Mormon who picks and chooses which doctrines he will accept. Romney was 31 years old at the time the Church lifted the ban which means that for a significant portion of his adult life he accepted his church’s teaching that blacks are inherently inferior.

    Does Romney still believe that he is more "valiant" or “worthy” than blacks by virtue of being born Caucasian? If he didn't believe that people of color were inferior during his adult life before the ban was lifted, then why did he remain a member – tacitly supporting the ban and its doctrinal underpinnings? Did he counsel members to not accept this church teaching when he was a church missionary, bishop or stake president? Did he lobby his church leaders to disavow the doctrine and change their teaching?

    Please note that while the church has changed its policy of prohibiting blacks from holding its priesthood, it has never renounced the doctrine that led to the ban in the first place. It has never disavowed or removed from the church cannon the scripture that the doctrine is based upon (i.e. Pearl of Great Price). It has never renounced or apologized for racist statements made by its leaders. It is interesting to note that while nearly 30 years have passed since the ban was lifted, not a single black face appears in the upper echelons of Mormon church leadership.

    November 9, 2007 05:38 pm at 5:38 pm |
  4. Richard, St. Paul, MN

    Once again, Mr. Romney blurs the definition of 'Mormon' and 'Moron.' What a pandering scum bag....

    November 9, 2007 05:39 pm at 5:39 pm |
  5. Bill, Streamwood, IL

    There mere fact that Mitt Romney believes that he needs the support of the evangelicals indicates to me that he is not worthy of being the GOP presidential candidate.

    Republicans need a candidate who can think outside the box; still stay within the bounds of Constitution and the law; and not sell his or her soul to the devil, Pat Roberston, Dick Land, Bob Jones University Alumni ... but I repeat myself.

    November 9, 2007 05:42 pm at 5:42 pm |
  6. rob

    People keep trying to paint attacks on Mitt as attacks on Mormons. I know very little about Mormonism and have no opinion on it, but I know Mitt is a shallow flip-flopper and is mouthing dangerous extremist views. I've worked for Mormons, and have had them marry into my family and we've had a lot of laughs. If I criticize Giuliani does that make me anti-Catholic? If I criticize Dubya, does that make me anti-idiot?

    November 9, 2007 06:02 pm at 6:02 pm |
  7. Jeff from Jersey

    Invitation only.Standard operating proceedure for the republican party.Even their campaign speeches and rallies are SPECIAL INTEREST GROUPS!They are selling the country down the river before they are even nominated.

    FOX NEWS idiots,go back to your network,it's time for your daily brainwashing!Romney,Rudy etal are taking care of the whitewashing.

    November 9, 2007 06:09 pm at 6:09 pm |
  8. Alice Newman Center Harbor NH

    One poster said "The qualifications of a good president DO NOT include his religious preference.

    If that is true, why is Mitt having secret "invitation only" meetings with Southern Baptists ... he's trying to gain votes from voters who believe religion is the only criteria ...

    Two faced? Two sided? Wearing his flip-flops?

    November 9, 2007 06:32 pm at 6:32 pm |
  9. Jeremy H. Simpsonville, SC

    As a former student of BJU I am excited to see Romney reaching out to Christians. Religion is what one bases their belief system on and Romney is showing that even though he belives in a different way to get to heaven, which isn't important in being President, he still holds the same high morals that TRUE Chirstians hold.

    November 9, 2007 06:46 pm at 6:46 pm |
  10. rob

    God has no concern for American politics. I am far too busy elsewhere.

    November 9, 2007 06:48 pm at 6:48 pm |
  11. DHunter, Orem, UT

    Does anybody commenting actually believe that Hillary Clinton is having no "private", or "by invitation only" meetings.....Get real!

    November 9, 2007 07:11 pm at 7:11 pm |
  12. Matt, Albany, GA

    If two canidates were exactly the same except one was of my religion and one was of another or none at all I would vote for the one that was my religion. Period.

    November 9, 2007 09:02 pm at 9:02 pm |
  13. Mark Columbus, Ohio

    I was a student at Bob Jones University. I dropped out and finished my education at PSI Institute in Columbus, Ohio. Bob Jones U. from what I saw at the time (late '80s) was an extreme right wing college...but was not racist. In fact, the last year I was there, a black student won the "Preacher Award" which is the biggest prize in the University. It does push it's brand of right-wing politics, but so does Berkley when they crank out their left-wing politics.
    Getting back to the subject, not quite sure why they are backing Romney. When I was there, they hated the Catholic religion big time.

    November 9, 2007 09:32 pm at 9:32 pm |
  14. Tom Dedham, Mass

    Does anybody commenting actually believe that Hillary Clinton is having no "private", or "by invitation only" meetings…..Get real!

    Posted By DHunter, Orem, UT : November 9, 2007 7:11 pm

    Excellent point DHunter and if the sheep look down a little further on this site they would find a blog where Billyboy had a "members only meeting" with black folks and they were clearing the sidewalks of ANYONE that they didn't want in such as the media.

    He even flip flopped on whether the media was invited or not, must be "someone elses fault".

    November 9, 2007 10:10 pm at 10:10 pm |
  15. AJ, Pine River, MN

    I wish I was enlightened enough to say his mormonism shouldn't be a consideration, but it is. Mormonism is an abomination, a cult, and a blasphemy. Sorry dude. You ain't gettin' my vote. Too creepy.

    November 9, 2007 11:02 pm at 11:02 pm |
  16. David, Richmond, VA

    To Bryan in Fireston, CO:

    You need to stop assuming because you are as wrong as you can be. I am indeed a member of the LDS church currently serving in a bishopric. Further, I do take exception to when Mitt says "Fine" to someone who insults his religion. My faith is part of me and insulting it is insulting me. It is fine to disagree with the doctrine, but to say what I believe is "wrong" or I am in an "erroneous" religion as Bob Jones said is beyond reproach and "fine" is an inadequate response. So please, stop making assumptions much like Mitt Romney needs to not assume all Mormons are going to vote for him. His pandering to these hate mongering, self-righteous so-called "Christians" is sickening and has driven my support from him. I am now supporting Ron Paul because he is his own man and is consistent in his convictions. I am Mormon, I am a Christian, and I will not support any candidate who panders to those who have such a blind and ignorant hatred toward my faith.

    November 9, 2007 11:05 pm at 11:05 pm |
  17. Mrs. America

    It's too bad that he has to justify his religion at all. Religion in this election has got way out of hand. What has happened to pure spirituality? I think religion has destroyed it.

    November 10, 2007 12:31 am at 12:31 am |
  18. Scott Taylor

    I think the man that grew up with Mitt Romney bottom lined it best. Although I am not Mitt Romney same faith and have a different view. I have never met anyone more qualified to be President of the United States then Mitt. This coming from a guy that grew up with him.

    I can tell you one thing I know for sure, Mitt Romney is the GUY WE NEED TO RUN THIS COUNTRY at this time, not since Ronald Reagan have I seen a more capable guy.

    It tells me another thing too, there is alot of nut jobs that make uninformed comments before thinking.


    November 10, 2007 02:08 am at 2:08 am |
  19. ne,pa.

    Romney has phony written all over him!!

    November 10, 2007 04:03 pm at 4:03 pm |
  20. Seriously now!

    Tony, Tulsa OK

    "Will these Republicans stop falling over each other to pander to the least educated class of people in the country?"

    Ok really??? I am not a supporter of this school but i am Christian and I find it offensive that you think religion denotes intellect. I find it very concerning that a large portion of the US is being called unintelligent by someone who has not ever met most these people. religion and beliefs don't make one stupid, ignorance does. I guess that means you will be keeping all those people you cut down company in the bottom of the intelligence pool.

    November 10, 2007 05:38 pm at 5:38 pm |
  21. Val Davydov, Agawam, MA

    Gary Howard. Bristol, NH:

    Very compelling testimony, thank you. I agree with you wholeheartedly.

    I also think that Mitt Romney was born to be President of our great nation – the United States of America.

    November 12, 2007 11:33 am at 11:33 am |
  22. Jay, Washington, DC

    1st: Sorry. Government has always been accused of forgetting about the people while ensuring their privileges. Politics is about power [that's why the religious right is so torn about this next election that they are willing to vote for a guy who supported a woman's right to choose]. Sadly, with power come privileges. We both don't like that, but let's not kid ourselves about some misty Camelotonain past. Ever since the Jacksonian Revolution, when we, the people decided not to leave politics to the arisocracy, government has been awash in privilege. Call it "The Spoils System, Tammany Hall, or Good Old Fashion patronage. The Democratic Congress didn't start this–nor the Republican Congress.

    However, bemoaning the Democratic Congress as a "give away Congress" is really slight of hand. Were you out there bemaoning the Republican Congress when it was funding bridges to nowhere? When it was "spending money like a drunken sailor?" That is a quote from John McCain. It was a Republican Congress that, amidst a war on terror, spent so foolishly that fiscal Republicans have turned on the party.

    As for "give aways" aimed at welfare moms, I hate welfare cheats too, but not everyone who accepts Government help is a welfare cheat, besides the rules are clearly tougher these days. Also, while we're talking about welfare cheats, would you like to add some venom in terms of corporate welfare–like Halliburton. If you want to know who is really ripping off our tax dollars look at the corporations with the lobbyists in DC and at the State levels. Aaah, I know, that's business and they're allowed to cheat and steal. I bet the fact that they are largely led by white, male, Republicans doesn't hurt either. Besides, it's always easier to beat on the lowly, sinning individual, then the high and powerful organization.

    As for Clinton, religion, morals and the Presidency, your analysis may be too rosey. Yes, Clinton's actions as a man were embarrassing, but his decisions as a President were pretty darned sound [compare our experiences in Bosnia to those our misguided adventure in Iraq]. We ended up with Bush because he was sold as the anti-Clinton. He's been personally moral, but his policies [all based on lies and deceptions] have resulted in how many dead soldiers? As the bumper sticker goes: When Clinton lied, nobody dies."

    As for electing a woman, if you raised that, we will never see eye-to-eye; however, at this point, if this were 2004 again, I'd elect a trained Chimpanzee rather than Bush. If all he had was a 50:50 chance of doing right by the people, he'd trounce Georgie W. I would take Hillary in a heart beat over any of the current flip/flop Republicans [only Sam Brownback is consistent], though I do think the current field could at least give the Chimpanzee a tough go.

    I elect a person for their judgement first

    November 12, 2007 04:55 pm at 4:55 pm |
  23. Amy Miller, Okemos, Michigan

    "I can tell you one thing I know for sure, Mitt Romney is the GUY WE NEED TO RUN THIS COUNTRY at this time, not since Ronald Reagan have I seen a more capable guy."

    Quote from Ronald Reagan:
    "Ron Paul is one of the outstanding leaders fighting for a stronger national defense. As a former Air Force officer, he knows well the needs of our armed forces, and he always puts them first. We need to keep him fighting for our country."

    November 14, 2007 07:01 pm at 7:01 pm |
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