November 13th, 2007
07:32 AM ET
13 years ago

Prominent conservative clarifies: I am not endorsing Romney

Romney used Dr. Richard Land's name while speaking to a crowd of evangelical Christians about Mormonism last week.

COLUMBIA, South Carolina (CNN) - Dr. Richard Land, President of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, said Monday that he supports Republican Mitt Romney's right to seek the presidency as a Mormon, but has not, and will not endorse any candidate running for president.

"Defending Governor Romney's right to run is very different than endorsing Governor Romney, which I have not done," Land said in a statement.

Land was responding to comments Romney made in South Carolina last week to an audience of Bob Jones University students, faculty and alumni, in which he sought to reconcile his Mormon faith with the evangelical Christian community he is courting in South Carolina.

Romney justified his faith to the invitation-only audience by invoking previous comments made by Land on the subject.

"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," Romney said.

CNN obtained an audio recording of that private meeting in Greenville from a Bob Jones alumnus who said he was frustrated that University officials Bob Jones III and Robert Taylor endorsed the former Massachusetts governor, in part because of Romney's past support for abortion rights.

Land, an influential voice among Christian conservatives, responded to Romney's comments Monday making it clear he is not officially supporting him.

"Those statements were made in response to questions about whether or not Governor Romney's faith was an absolute 'deal breaker' for evangelicals in selecting a presidential candidate, not an endorsement of Governor Romney," Land said in the statement. "I have defended various candidates from time to time when I've felt that they have been unfairly or inaccurately criticized. At other times, I have been asked by the media for my assessment of a particular candidate's chances or weaknesses and strengths. Neither defense nor assessment should be confused with endorsement. As a matter of policy, I have not endorsed, do not endorse and will not endorse candidates."

Romney's South Carolina communications director Will Holley issued this response to Land's comments: "The Governor has great respect for both Dr. Land's neutrality and his opinions."

Related video: Watch Richard Land's recent visit to CNN's Situation Room

- CNN South Carolina Producer Peter Hamby

Filed under: Mitt Romney • South Carolina
soundoff (26 Responses)
  1. Dale Davis, Glendora, California

    I wonder if Dr. Richard Land would advise Mike Huckaby to give a JFK-type speech to all the Mormon voters that he also will not be running for Pastor In Chief. After all, fair is fair. Right?

    November 19, 2007 11:09 am at 11:09 am |
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