WASHINGTON — Mitt Romney's a Mormon and proud of it.
On Thursday, the former Massachusetts governor defended his faith in a high-profile speech at the George H.W. Bush presidential library at Texas A & M University. It could've been a turning point for his presidential campaign — but it wasn't clear which way it might turn it.
Romney's led the Republican contest almost all year in Iowa, where Jan. 3 caucuses commence voting for presidential nominees. He's spent lots of money on ads and organization there, but lately, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee has taken the lead in several Iowa polls.
Huckabee is an ordained Baptist minister, and his ads declare him a "Christian leader." Some 40 percent of Iowa's Republican caucus-goers identify themselves as evangelical Christians, and polls show that most of Huckabee's Iowa support comes from them. Romney needs to reach them, yet calling attention to his Mormonism by defending it could backfire.
Many evangelical Christians consider Mormonism to be a non-Christian cult. About one-fourth of Americans tell pollsters that they wouldn't vote for a Mormon. So Romney had a formidable task.
Echoing John F. Kennedy's famous 1960 speech in which he asserted that as a Catholic president, he would obey the Constitution, not the Vatican, Romney said:
"I will put no doctrine of any church above the plain duties of the office and the sovereign authority of the law. ... I do not define my candidacy by my religion. A person should not be elected because of his faith nor rejected because of his faith."
He said he believes that Jesus Christ is the son of God and the savior of mankind, but he acknowledged that some Mormon views differ from traditional Christian denominations. He didn't spell those out — but he didn't disown them either.
"Some believe that such a confession of my faith will sink my candidacy," Romney said. "If they are right, so be it."
OBAMA, TOO, ECHOES JFK
Illinois Sen. Barack Obama called this week for young Americans to "step into the currents of history" and commit their generation to public service. In a speech at Cornell College in Mt. Vernon, Iowa, on Wednesday, Obama said he would double the size of the Peace Corps, expand AmeriCorps, enlist people over 55 for community service and recruit and train Americans to speak foreign languages. "I will ask for your service and your active citizenship when I am president of the United States," Obama said. He was introduced by former Pennsylvania Sen. Harris Wofford, who helped start the Peace Corps under President John F. Kennedy. Wofford said he hadn't felt so inspired "since the days of John Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King."
McCAIN GETS BIG HELP
Arizona Sen. John McCain won the coveted endorsement of the New Hampshire Union Leader, the only statewide newspaper in that state. New Hampshire holds the first primary on Jan. 8. Though the conservative paper isn't as influential as it once was, it still counts. A front-page editorial last Sunday — headlined "John McCain is the man to lead America" — argued that "his record, his character and his courage show him to be the most trustworthy, competent and conservative of all those seeking the nomination. Simply put, McCain can be trusted to make informed decisions based on the best interests of his country, come hell or high water." Perhaps even more valuable to McCain this week, however, was Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling campaigning with him in New Hampshire, where loyalty to the Red Sox is all but required from birth.
DEMOCRATS DEBATE ON NPR
The Democratic presidential candidates debated Tuesday on National Public Radio from Des Moines, Iowa. Only three topics were addressed in the two-hour session: Iran, China and immigration. No new ground was broken.
Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards repeated his criticism of New York Sen. Hillary Clinton for voting in September for a resolution to label Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist organization. Edwards said she'd capitulated to President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney's push toward war with Iran. Clinton objected: "I understand politics, and I understand making outlandish political charges, but this really goes too far."
As for China, the Democrats agreed that tougher enforcement of trade laws is necessary. On immigration, they all favor comprehensive changes that strengthen border enforcement and lead to a path toward citizenship for those illegal immigrants who are already in the United States.
CLINTON HITS WALL STREET
Sen. Hillary Clinton visited Wall Street on Wednesday to lay out her plan for the subprime mortgage crisis. Clinton called for a 90-day moratorium on foreclosures on owner-occupied homes and a freeze on subprime loan rates for at least five years to prevent them from resetting to higher rates and forcing more foreclosures. Clinton criticized Wall Street for encouraging faulty lending practices that helped lead to the crisis.
YOUNG VOTERS LIKE OBAMA AND GIULIANI
Young voters ages 18-24 prefer Barack Obama to Hillary Clinton in the Democratic presidential contest. Young Republicans tilt toward former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Those were the headlines from a national survey of young likely voters released Wednesday by Harvard University's Institute of Politics. The Iraq war was by far the most important issue for young voters, as 37 percent said it was the No. 1 issue. Health care finished second, at 9 percent.
Of those planning to back a Democrat:
_ 38 percent consider Obama their first choice.
_ 33 percent pick Clinton.
_ 7 percent support John Edwards.
_ 13 percent were undecided.
_ 26 percent prefer Giuliani.
_ 15 percent back John McCain.
_ 9 percent pick Fred Thompson.
_ 6 percent back Mitt Romney.
_ 6 percent back Ron Paul.
_ 30 percent were undecided.
NEXT WEEK: Republican presidential candidates will debate Wednesday in Des Moines, Iowa. Democratic presidential candidates debate there Thursday. Both debates are sponsored by the Des Moines Register.