(Richard Ellis/Getty Images )
Baseball metaphors are certainly in vogue this time of year, but never have they been so politically charged. Mitt Romney on Saturday used one to address controversial remarks from a supporter of chief rival Rick Perry, who just one day earlier equated Mormonism with a "cult."
Those remarks, from Dallas pastor Robert Jeffress, were made not on stage at the Values Voter Summit but to reporters who spoke with him after. But Perry had embraced him and thanked him for his endorsement and introduction when he addressed attendees Friday.
"He knocked it out of the park, as we like to say," Perry said then.
The issue of Romney's Mormon faith has been largely under the surface in this campaign. No longer.
In Iowa later Friday, Perry was asked whether he agreed with Jeffress' belief about Mormonism being a "cult." He offered a terse, "No," and otherwise ignored questions about it, the New York Times reported.
On Saturday morning, conservative radio host and former Reagan official William Bennett condemned Jeffress' "bigotry."
"You did Rick Perry no good, sir, in what you had to say," Bennett said, to modest applause.
Speaking immediately after Bennett, Romney offered what could have been a pro-forma acknowledgment of Bennett's remarks, but was clearly more than that.
"Speaking of hitting it out of the park, how about that Bill Bennett? Isn't he something else?" Romney said.
He was more explicit later in his speech, making the point that "decency and civility are values too," while criticizing an unnamed speaker who would follow him for "poisonous language" that "does not advance our cause."
"It has never softened a single heart nor changed a single mind," he said. "The blessings of faith carry the responsibility of civil and respectful debate. The task before us is to focus on the conservative beliefs and the values that unite us – let no agenda, narrow our vision or drive us apart."
Bryan Fischer, who followed Romney, has been criticized for controversial remarks about gays, Muslims and others. Fischer's speech to the Values Voter Summit did indeed talk of the "sin" of homosexuality and threat of the Islamic faith.
Romney's speech otherwise struck a familiar theme, attacking President Obama, with some added flourishes to appeal to the more conservative audience before him.
"America's strength rises from a strong economy, a strong defense, and from the enduring strength of our values. Unfortunately under this president, all three of those have been weakened," Romney said.
He was received politely, if not enthusiastically. The only line that earned a standing ovation – and a partial one at that – was calling for a Supreme Court that would overturn Roe vs. Wade.
Romney has largely run a campaign with an eye toward November 2012 and not the Republican primaries – whenever they may start.