Romney Courts Conservatives, Faces Questions On Religion

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, courting Iowa conservatives, found himself answering questions Saturday about the role his Mormon faith would play should he win the race.

Romney told one questioner at a forum co-sponsored by a Christian group that "we have exactly the same values" and said there is no religious litmus test for candidates. The former Massachusetts governor dismissed suggestions of a conflict between his religion and his ability to govern. He also hastened to offer assurances of his faith.

"The Bible for me is the word of God," Romney said. "I also believe that Jesus Christ is my savior."

The questions arose as Romney prepared to join five other Republican candidates at a forum sponsored by two of the most important forces in Iowa Republican politics - the Iowa Christian Alliance and Iowans for Tax Relief.

Many conservative Christians are quietly nervous about Romney's religion and the issue surfaced as Romney opened his campaigning at a forum in Pella, about 40 miles south of Des Moines.

Mary Van Steenis asked Romney how he would ponder important decisions as president and which source of inspiration he would seek.

"Where would the Bible be in that process?" she asked. "Would it be above the Book of Mormon or would it be beneath it?"

"I don't know that there's any conflict at all between the values of great faiths like mine, like yours, like other faiths, like Jews who don't believe in the New Testament," Romney said.

"People of faith have different doctrines and different beliefs on various topics of a theological nature. But in terms of what it is we are going to believe and also based on our values for our country, I think we come from the same place," Romney said.

The answer did not satisfy Van Steenis.

"I asked if you had to look to one source what would it be? He didn't really respond to that," she told reporters after the event. "This is serious to me."

Romney said he thinks that as people "look at me and my values and look at my family and myself they'll recognize that we have exactly the same values. This is a nation where people come from different faiths, different doctrines and different churches."

Romney aide Eric Fehrnstrom quickly issued a statement to reporters that said Romney took the oath of office as governor on his family Bible.

"He swore to follow the Constitution and uphold the laws of the land," said Fehrnstrom. "That would continue to be his highest duty as president."

Romney and his rivals paraded before about 750 conservative activists, using half-hour chunks of time to rail against abortion rights and gay marriage, and offer tough talk about building a fence along the border with Mexico. All pledged to cut taxes and shrink government.

Romney got polite applause as he vowed to push conservative themes.

"It is essential that we have a Republican president who is pro-life and pro-family," said Romney.

Loudest cheers of the day went conservative Rep Tom Tancredo, who railed against illegal immigration. "If you want to call me a single issue candidate, that's fine as long as you know my issue is the survival of this country," he said.

Meeting with reporters, Romney said the question about his faith was fair.

"I don't know whether I'll give an address on this or not, I may well," said Romney. "A couple of campaigns have raised this issue and that may lead me to give an address at some point."

Other rivals focused on Democrats, mainly Sen. Hillary Clinton.

"If you want to make sure Hillary Clinton is not elected next year, you better voter for Tommy Thompson," said the former Wisconsin Governor.

Some of Romney's critics says he has shifted his views on positions such as abortion and gay rights as he moves from governor to presidential contender.

Romney sought to assure activists of his hard-line views. He said the landmark Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in 1973 should be overturned and states should be allowed to decide the issue.

He also said he fought an overwhelmingly Democratic Legislature in Boston by pushing for the death sentence during his time in office.

Romney and most of his rivals - minus top tier candidates Rudy Giuliani and John McCain - were appearing at the forum. Joining Romney were Thompson, Mike Huckabee, Sam Brownback, Tancredo and Duncan Hunter.