Jim Watson / AFP/Getty Images (mbr19qp720121021170912/600 )
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- In the heart of one of the nation’s most contested states, newspaper readers awoke Sunday to a full-page plea from America’s most famous evangelist to vote for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Sort of.
The full-page ad in the Columbus Dispatch featured a black-and-white photo of the Rev. Billy Graham, with a brief text burned into the dark background in white letters over Graham’s signature.
“On Nov. 6, the day before my 94th birthday,” read Graham’s message, “our nation will hold one of the most critical elections in my lifetime. We are at a crossroads and there are profound moral issues at stake. I strongly urge you to vote for candidates who support the biblical definition of marriage between a man and a woman, protect the sanctity of life and defend our religious freedoms. The Bible speaks clearly on these crucial issues. Please join me in praying for America, that we will turn our hearts back toward God.”
It was as close to an endorsement of Romney as Graham could get without explicitly saying so.
PHOTOS: Mitt Romney’s past
In May, President Obama declared his support for gay marriage rights, and he has always supported abortion rights. In January, he was accused of trampling on religious freedom when his administration got into a tangle with religious organizations over whether they should be forced to offer health insurance plans to employees that cover contraception and abortion.
Romney opposes gay marriage. Although he was in favor of abortion rights earlier in his political career, has renounced that position and opposes abortion in almost all cases.
This is not the first such ad that Graham has purchased in recent days.
On Thursday, he took out similar ads in the Wall Street Journal, as well as USA Today. The language differed slightly, however, from his message Sunday in Ohio. In the large national papers, he urged voters to “cast our ballots for candidates who base their decisions on biblical principles and support the nation of Israel. He also struck a poignant tone missing from Sunday’s ad, noting, “I realize this election may be my last.”
The Dispatch endorsed Romney Sunday.
Ten days ago, in a meeting with Romney at his North Carolina mountaintop retreat outside Asheville, Graham told the former Massachusetts governor he would do all he could to help him win on Nov. 6.
Graham’s son, Franklin, was also present at the meeting.
In September, Franklin Graham had published an essay in USA Today that heartily endorsed Romney. In it, he sought to defuse concerns about Romney’s Mormonism, arguing that it should not be an obstacle for evangelical Christians, many of whom do not consider the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to be a Christian denomination.
INTERACTIVE: Battleground states map
Follow Politics Now on Twitter and Facebook