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As some 1,500 conservatives and evangelicals prepared to descend on the Hilton Hotel in Washington, D.C., this month for a "Values Voter Summit" that promised speeches from every Republican presidential candidate, Mark DeMoss gave 150 Christian leaders something to chew on: A five-page memo supporting Mitt Romney.
DeMoss' endorsement of Romney is significant. The Georgia-based publicist is founder of The DeMoss Group, a prominent public-relations firm representing well-known Christian organizations such as the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Campus Crusade for Christ International. He is well-connected among evangelical leaders and calls the late Jerry Falwell his political mentor. (DeMoss emphasizes that Romney isn't a client and that he receives no money from the campaign for his private endorsement.)
DeMoss' Oct. 9 memo arrived in the mailboxes of a handful of prominent Christian leaders and pastors at a moment of evangelical angst: Just last month in Salt Lake City, some 40 conservative leaders, including Focus on the Family's James Dobson and Family Research Council president Tony Perkins, met to discuss concern over the slate of presidential candidates.
The group didn't settle on a candidate they could unanimously support, and Dobson indicated that many in the closed-door meeting might rally behind a third-party candidate if the pro-abortion Rudy Giuliani wins the Republican nomination.
DeMoss agrees that a pro-abortion Republican nominee would be unacceptable, but he argued in his memo that conservatives should rally behind Romney instead of discussing third-party possibilities before the primaries. "It's like we're planning for Plan B before we've exhausted Plan A," DeMoss later told WORLD.
For DeMoss, Plan A involves evangelicals backing Romney, but he knows that's an uphill battle. Even if conservatives digest Romney's changing positions on issues like abortion and gay marriage (he once supported both), there's still one pill they may not be able to swallow: Romney's Mormonism.
DeMoss wrote in his memo that he also dealt with that concern before settling on Romney, but came to this conclusion: "I am more concerned that a candidate shares my values than he shares my theology."
He noted that Romney is now pro-life and opposed to gay marriage, and he said conservatives should embrace those who change their minds instead of mistrusting them: "We embraced Ronald Reagan (who signed a liberal abortion law as governor of California), Norma McCorvey ('Jane Roe'), and I am prepared to accept and embrace Mitt Romney."
On the issue of Romney's Mormonism, DeMoss also wrote: "The question shouldn't be, 'could I vote for a Mormon,' but 'could I vote for this Mormon?'" He added that as a conservative, Southern Baptist evangelical, "I am convinced that I have more in common with most Mormons than I do with a liberal Southern Baptist, Methodist, Roman Catholic, or a liberal from any other denomination or faith group."
DeMoss told WORLD he knows some Christians are uneasy supporting a Mormon candidate because of Mormonism's fundamental departure from biblical Christianity. But he insists it's possible to "share common values without common theology." "On a personal level, as an evangelical Christian, I care very much about Mitt Romney's soul and eternity," said DeMoss. "On a political level, I don't."
DeMoss isn't the only evangelical backing Romney. David French, former president of the conservative Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), maintains a website called "Evangelicals for Mitt." Jay Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice is an adviser to Romney's campaign.
And Robert Taylor, a top official at the evangelical Bob Jones University in Greenville, S.C., told The Wall Street Journal he would endorse Romney. Taylor acknowledged the endorsement could be controversial because of Romney's Mormonism, but he said: "We're electing a president, not a pastor."