Monday, October 02, 2006

Romney grilled over Mormon past

The quarterly meeting of the S.C. Republican executive committee Sept. 16 ended on a sour note when one of its more prominent members cornered Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and grilled him about his Mormon faith.

It was not a pretty sight, according to witnesses.

Romney, a possible Republican candidate for president in 2008, was in town to address the state executive committee.

Cyndi Mosteller, chairwoman of the Charleston County Republican Party, one of the largest GOP organizations in the state, came armed with a bunch of material — and questions — about the Mormon church.

The incident only underlines what could become an uncomfortable debate over Romney's faith if he runs for the White House. The issue will be on the table in South Carolina's early primary contest, where roughly 35 percent of GOP voters are evangelical Christians, many of whom view Mormonism with skepticism.

Mosteller, an evangelical, said she especially was concerned about the church's attitude toward African-Americans and its stand on polygamy.

The Mormon religion was founded by Joseph Smith in 1830. Today, it is one of the fastest-growing faith groups in the United States. Based in Salt Lake City, Utah, it is known formally as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Mormonism's short history has been tumultuous, with an early embrace of polygamy, which it later renounced. Still, Mormons grapple with their polygamous past.

It has been almost 30 years since the Mormon Church lifted a ban that kept black males from the church's priesthood.

Brigham Young, who succeeded Smith as church leader, wrote that God put a curse on Cain — a "flat nose and black skin" — for killing his brother Abel.

Mosteller said the issues of race and marriage concern her. She fears they could become campaign issues and hurt Republican chances.

She had planned to ask the questions in an open committee session, but Romney nixed that idea by ending his short address with a final "thank you."

The governor then proceeded to meet with the media for about 15 minutes.

Enter Mosteller.

Sensing trouble, Romney aides hurriedly ushered reporters out the door.

Afterward, Mosteller said the governor did not answer any of her questions. She described the meeting as "very tense."......

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