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Oct. 10 (Bloomberg) -- Republican presidential candidates dismissed a Baptist minister’s criticism of their party frontrunner Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith, saying his religion shouldn’t be a campaign issue.
“This is so inconsequential as far as this campaign is concerned,” Representative Michele Bachmann, of Minnesota, said on CNN’s “State of the Union” program. “To make a big issue out of this is ridiculous.”
Businessman Herman Cain said “I’m not running for theologian-in-chief” when asked about Romney’s religion on the CNN program yesterday. “I am not going to do an analysis of Mormonism versus Christianity for the sake of answering that,” he said, adding “it’s not going to boost this economy.”
Robert Jeffress, a Baptist minister from Dallas, told reporters at a “Values Voter Summit” in Washington last week that Romney, a Mormon, is “a good, moral person, but someone who is part of a cult.” Jeffress supports Romney’s rival Rick Perry, the Texas governor, and introduced Perry at the meeting.
Romney responded that religious differences shouldn’t divide Republicans and urged civility in the party’s 2012 presidential nomination process.
“Poisonous language does not advance our cause,” Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, said at the values voter event, which is held by evangelical Christians, an important voting bloc in the Republican nominating contests. “Decency and civility is a value, too,” he said.
Not a Cult
Perry “does not believe Mormonism is a cult,” spokesman Mark Miner said in a statement.
The annual evangelical gathering focuses on efforts to “champion traditional values,” limit government and cut federal spending. Self-described evangelicals accounted for 44 percent of Republican primary voters in the 2008 campaign, according to exit polling.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who is also seeking the Republican nomination, said the minister’s comments about Mormonism were “inappropriate,” speaking yesterday on the CBS “Face the Nation” program. On “Fox News Sunday,” Rick Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator, said he doesn’t think Mormonism is a cult and that “every Mormon I know is a good and decent person.”
“I believe they believe they are Christians based on their definition, but getting into whether or not they’re more Christian than another group, I don’t think that’s relevant to this campaign,” Cain said on the CBS program.
Ron Paul Wins
Representative Ron Paul of Texas, also seeking the 2012 Republican nomination, won a straw poll held at the summit with 37 percent of the votes cast, according to Paul’s campaign. Cain received 23 percent of the votes, followed by Santorum with 16 percent, and Perry and Bachmann each with 8 percent. Romney won the 2007 straw poll with 27.6 percent of the votes, according to the Family Research Council, which organizes the summit.
Republican candidates on the Sunday talk shows focused on the ailing economy, criticizing President Barack Obama’s proposal to impose a surtax on millionaires.
“It’s a very bad idea, because remember, that’s on top of all of the other tax increases that President Obama is putting on this same group of people who are the job creators in this country,” Bachmann said on CNN.
Economy and Jobs
At the evangelical summit, Romney also focused most of his comments on the economy and jobs, criticizing Obama’s economic stimulus program. Perry at the same event spotlighted his call for lower taxes on businesses and a freeze on pending government regulations, as well as promoting Texas’s job-growth record during his almost 11 years as governor.
Perry has dropped in opinion polls after drawing attacks from his Republican opponents in recent debates. A Washington Post-ABC News poll of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents taken Sept. 29-Oct. 2 gave Perry 16 percent, a decline of 13 percentage points since early September. Romney led the Republican field with 25 percent. Perry was tied for second in the survey with Cain.
Cain chastised the “Occupy Wall Street” protests at the summit. He said the demonstrators are “anti-capitalism” and “anti-free-market.”
“We know that the unions and certain union-related organizations have been behind these protests,” Cain said on CBS yesterday. “It’s coordinated to create a distraction so people won’t focus on the failed policies of this administration.”
Taking Somebody’s Cadillac
He also said the protesters are “jealous” Americans who “play the victim card” and “want to take somebody else’s Cadillac.”
Bachmann said she saw “a lot of signs” from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees when she went to a protest in Washington last week.
“I don’t know how spontaneous these protests are, but they should be directed at the White House,” she said on CNN.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said on ABC’s “This Week” yesterday that passing Obama’s jobs bill is the best way to improve the economy and reduce the joblessness that is prompting the protests.
“It’s really important that President Obama get out there very strongly, very clearly, about what this jobs bill does and what it means to kitchen-table concerns of the American people,” said Pelosi, a California Democrat.
House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, speaking on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” said Obama’s jobs ideas “have already proven to fail.”
“He’s running around this country campaigning on a bill that he knows won’t pass,” said Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican.
--With assistance from Sara Forden, Catherine Dodge and Kristin Jensen in Washington. Editors: Ann Hughey, Bob Drummond
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