(MANSFIELD, Ohio) — With the party conventions in the rearview mirror and Election Day less than two months away, Mitt Romney has found God once again.
At a campaign rally in Mansfield, Ohio, on Monday, Romney pledged that, if elected, “I will not take God out of my heart, I will not take God out of the public square and I will not take it out of the platform of my party.”
His promise in Ohio on Monday echoed his remarks in Virginia on Saturday when Romney led the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance.
“That pledge says ‘under God,’ and I will not take God out of our platform,” Romney told a Virginia Beach crowd. “I will not take God off our coins, and I will not take God out of my heart.”
This relatively new line in Romney’s stump speech is partly a reaction to the Democratic Party’s platform debacle at their convention in Charlotte, N.C. last week. Democrats initially removed the phrase “God-given” from the platform, but at President Obama’s urging, the language was later added back — and approved.
On Monday, Romney omitted his assurance not to “take God off our coins” from his speech in Ohio. But over the weekend, that line sparked a feisty response from Obama campaign spokeswoman Lis Smith who said that Romney’s implication that Democrats ever suggested removing religious references from the currency was “extreme and untrue.”
It was not the first time Romney used the line, but it appears to be the first time in a while.
In a Feb. 2007 interview, ABC’s George Stephanopoulos asked Romney about his views on the separation of church and state.
“Well, we have a separation of church and state in this country, and we should and it’s served us well,” Romney told Stephanopoulos at the time. “I don’t believe, for instance, we should take ‘Under God’ out of the Pledge of Allegiance. I don’t think we should take ‘In God We Trust’ off of our coins. There’s a point at which we take something which is a good principle to an extreme.”
More recently, in a questionnaire Romney filled out for Cathedral Age, a magazine produced by the Washington National Cathedral, he pledged to “acknowledge the Creator, as did the Founders — in ceremony and word.”
“In recent years, the notion of the separation of church and state has been taken by some well beyond its original meaning,” Romney wrote. “They seek to remove from the public domain any acknowledgment of God.”
But Romney’s new emphasis on God in his stump speech likely goes beyond the controversy over the Democratic Party platform.
Republican strategist and former communications director to Rick Santorum, Hogan Gidley, said Romney was smart to include the religious reference for two reasons: “So that voters realize he’s focused on the economy — and not going to waste his time trying to take God out of our lives and so that the vast majority of people who believe in that God know that he’s talking to them.”
Another GOP strategist noted that the new lines “allow Romney to make the sale with evangelicals — who, despite what they say, are still unsure about electing a Mormon to office.”
According to a July Pew Research Center poll, among the 66 percent of white evangelicals who know that Romney is Mormon, 23 percent said his faith makes them “uncomfortable.” However, as the survey points out: “Overwhelming majorities of Republican and Republican-leaning voters who know Romney is Mormon support him, whether they are comfortable with his religion or not.”
One more reason for Romney to highlight “God” in his stump speech, this GOP strategist said: “It allows him to drive Catholic votes out of working-class states like Ohio. Between the contraception issue, the convention debacle, there is a mounting argument to be made to voters of traditional faiths that the president and his party are anti-God. It’s an effective cudgel if you’re trying to drive turnout and convince uncertain evangelicals.”
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Ruth Brown, Idaho Press-Tribune
Stephen Collinson, CNN