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Saturday, January 13, 2007
posted by jason | 10:11 AM | permalink
The Miami Herald reports on a meeting Romney had with Christian Conservatives. It went very well:

Florida's leading religious conservatives grilled Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney on Friday over his changed positions on gay rights and abortion, suggesting the former Massachusetts governor could be a tough sell for the party's influential right wing.

Romney was pro-choice when he twice ran for governor in the liberal-leaning state. When he campaigned for the U.S. Senate against Ted Kennedy in 1994, he told gay activists he would be a stronger advocate for equal rights.

Now, Romney says he is pro-life and against gay marriage. The poised speaker didn't win over Orlando attorney John Stemberger, who is spearheading a referendum on same-sex marriage on Florida's 2008 ballot.

''At this time I am not convinced that he is the best candidate for social conservatives,'' Stemberger said in a written statement. ``I am encouraging Christian leaders statewide to keep their powder dry and wait to hear what other candidates have to say.''

During last year's race for governor, Stemberger and most of Florida's leading religious conservatives preferred Tom Gallagher to the more moderate Charlie Crist, even though Gallagher had once described himself as pro-choice. Some conservatives say Romney compares favorably to U.S. Sen. John McCain, who has tussled with Christian leaders in the past, and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who supports abortion rights.

As governor, Romney pushed his state's legislature and high court to put a gay-marriage ban on the ballot.

''He took a stand on same-sex marriage in a very challenging political climate,'' said David Caton of the Florida Families Association, which helped repeal a Hillsborough County ordinance forbidding discrimination against gays. ``He showed his strength and moral fiber in a way that gives me hope that he will be a leader for families and for this country.''

At this early stage in the campaign, Romney and other White House hopefuls are focusing on states with January primaries, such as Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina. Nearly two years before the general election, donor-rich Florida is generally a stopover for candidates cultivating cash, not votes.

But a fast-moving bill that would move up Florida's primary from March to January -- even earlier than South Carolina's vote -- puts the fourth-largest state in play as never before.

About 35 people met with Romney at the Orlando law office of state Rep. Dean Cannon, who is slated to become the leader of the Florida House in 2010. The candidate fielded tough questions for more than an hour.

''People had very valid questions on how and why his views on social issues had changed over the years.'' said state Rep. Anitere Flores, a Miami Republican. ``These are people that can move and shake a lot of voters in the primary.''

''They were straightforward questions, and he hit them head on,'' said Mark Merrill, a conservative radio show host based in Tampa. ``I was impressed.''

Two Central Florida politicians in good stead with Christian conservatives were asked to participate in the meeting with Romney, a Mormon. U.S. Rep. Tom Feeney, who has pushed abortion limits and school prayer, praised Romney via speaker phone from Washington. State Rep. Dennis Baxley, who sponsored legislation to keep the severely brain-damaged Terri Schiavo alive, noted that Romney has been married for more than 35 years and has five sons.

''There are a lot of evangelicals, Christians and value activists who are trying to find their place,'' Baxley said. ``To whom do we go? Who will carry the day? Who can we depend on? [Romney] believes some things that I can't believe, but what we have in common is standing to protect the free expression of faith and traditional families and freedom and decency.''

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