Audience members pray before the start of the Values Voters Summit in Washington. (AP Photo / Evan Vucci )
WASHINGTON -- In remarks to a prominent gathering of religious conservatives, Mitt Romney vowed to be a president who shared their “commitment to conservative principles,” and said a strong economy was rooted in “strong communities and strong families.”
Romney addressed the annual Values Voter Summit in Washington via a recorded video message, surprising attendees who had not expected to hear from the Republican nominee. His running mate, Paul D. Ryan had spoken to the gathering just hours earlier before heading to a campaign stop in battleground Virginia.
Romney said that his travels in the past year have underscored the “great strain our troubled economy has put on families,” and he aligned himself with the many who are “proud to cling to their religion and to the Constitution,” a reference to remarks President Obama made as a candidate in 2008.
He mentioned his former rival, Rick Santorum, in citing a study that found that individuals who graduated from high school, found full-time employment and waited until they were 21 to have children were far less likely to be poor.
“In short, culture matters,” Romney said. “And as president I will protect our culture and preserve the values of hard work, personal responsibility, family and faith.”
Romney touched on a number of key priorities of his party’s base, vowing to “uphold the sanctity of life,” “defend marriage, not try to redefine it” and “preserve the American spirit of one nation under God.”
“As president, I’ll support the expression of religious faith in the public square. Our government should respect our values, not seek to silence them,” he said.
A year ago, in the heat of the Republican primary, Romney made a personal appeal at the summit, a gathering that revealed the unease some evangelical Christians had with his Mormon faith. Robert Jefress, a pastor supporting Rick Perry, introduced the Texas governor with a heavy emphasis on his faith, calling Perry “a genuine follower of Jesus Christ.”
Later, speaking with reporters, Jeffress shared his belief that Romney was “a good, moral, family person,” but “not a born-again follower of Christ,” and that many believed Mormonism to be a cult.
Romney would later condemn Jeffress’ comments, saying there was no place for “that kind of divisiveness based upon religion.”
Tony Perkins, the head of the Family Research Council, which sponsors the summit, said earlier this week that he felt Romney was “doing a good job in becoming more comfortable in talking about the issues of faith.”
“There is no question that we have theological differences when it comes to our religion. But we have a shared concern over where this country stands today,” he said. “I believe that Gov. Romney is doing a good job in reaching out and bringing in all concerns within the conservative movement.”
Perkins said the enthusiasm among social conservatives was building, which he attributed more to Obama administration policies than to Romney. He singled out the moment at the recent Democratic National Convention when a move to reinsert language into the party platform mentioning God was seemingly rejected by a significant number of delegates.