Romney challenges Perry to repudiate remarks about Mormonism

Posted Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2011  comments  Print Reprints

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WASHINGTON - Presidential candidate Mitt Romney ramped up his attacks on Texas Gov. Rick Perry on Tuesday over remarks made Friday by Dallas pastor Robert Jeffress that Mormonism is a "cult" after introducing Perry at the Values Voter Summit on Friday.

"I would call upon Gov. Perry to repudiate the sentiment and the remarks," said Romney, who is Mormon, at a New Hampshire press conference with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

Christie, who endorsed the former Massachusetts governor for president, also weighed in on the issue just hours before tonight's presidential debate at 7 p.m. CDT.

"These type of religious matters have nothing to do with the quality of somebody's ability to lead," said Christie. "Any campaign that associates itself with that type of conduct is beneath the office of president of the United States."

Perry spokesman Mark Miner said that Perry, who was also in New Hampshire for the GOP presidential debate, does not think Mormonism is a cult.

"The governor is going to focus his campaign on improving the economy and jobs creation," said Miner. "Anything else is a distraction."

Perry, he said, should "repudiate" his role in government-mandated healthcare in Massachusetts as the "blueprint" for President Obama's national healthcare program.

Perry, he added, "doesn't agree with everything that people he meets or people who endorse him believe."

Perry, like all eight GOP presidential aspirants, was in New Hampshire for Tuesday night's Washington Post/Bloomberg debate on the economy.

Romney also said that Perry had chosen Jeffress, senior pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, to introduce him at the event, although the Family Research Council, which organizes the Values Voter Summit, said they had selected him and Perry's campaign signed off on the Dallas preacher.

In his fiery introduction of Perry, Jeffress did not mention Mormonism or Romney but clearly drew differences between the Texas governor and the former Massachusetts governor.

Perry, he said, was "a proven leader, a true conservative, and a committed follower of Christ."

"Do we want a candidate who is skilled in rhetoric or one who is skilled in leadership?"

Jeffress said. "Do we want a candidate who is a conservative out of convenience or onewho is a conservative out of deep conviction? Do we want a candidate who is a good, moral person - or one who is a born-again follower of the lord Jesus Christ?"

Afterwards, the pastor told reporters: "Rick Perry's a Christian. He's an evangelical Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ. Mitt Romney's a good moral person, but he's not a Christian. Mormonism is not Christianity. It has always been considered a cult by the mainstream of Christianity."

The pastor said Romney "is not somebody I would vote for, nor would I encourage evangelical Christians to vote for" in the GOP primary."

"Mitt Romney may make a great president, he may be a good person, but if you vote for him, don't be under the illusion that you're voting for a Christian."

Romney addressed the Values Voter audience the day after Perry and Jeffress spoke but the former Massachusetts governor did not directly take on the "cult" allegation until Tuesday's press conference.

Maria Recio is the Star-Telegram's Washington bureau chief, 202-383-6103

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