The EFM Feature

Columnist Lee Bandy, writing in The State, tells the story of a strange and inappropriate confrontation between Governor Romney and South Carolina Republican Cyndi Mosteller:

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.

. . .

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.”

It would be an understatement to say that Mosteller’s stunt did not go over well:

Cindi Costa, a conservative Christian from Charleston and member of the Republican National Committee, waited outside the room. She earlier pleaded with Mosteller not to confront Romney.
“This makes me sick,” Costa said. “Your personal faith is not game in politics. It’s a private matter.”

Others made similar comments:

Costa said Mosteller’s questioning “besmirches her character. It makes her look hateful. This is not what we’re about. The party does not give religious tests,”
“This is awful,” said Spartanburg GOP chairman Rick Beltram. “I’m unhappy with Cyndi.”
State GOP chairman Katon Dawson isn’t pleased either. “She acted in bad taste.”

An aberrational incident with a lone crank? Not so fast. The good folks at the Article VI blog did a little digging and found out — surprise, surprise — that Cyndi Mosteller is not a lone crank but a McCain operative.
I talked to some of our own sources in South Carolina, and they confirmed this story. Mosteller not only worked with McCain in 2000, she is allied with him now. Here’s where the story gets even worse. Mosteller’s attack is actually consistent with what other McCain people have been telling prominent South Carolina evangelicals. Over the past couple months, we at EFM have engaged in multiple conversations with South Carolina evangelicals, and most of the people we’ve talked to have mentioned “McCain folks” who’ve told them that Mormons “have problems with race and marriage.”
To the mainstream media, McCain is practically “Saint John,” the virtuous straight talker who was robbed of the presidency by Karl Rove’s dirty tricks. Saint John’s people wouldn’t stoop to religious bigotry and their own whisper campaign in an effort to win what they see is rightfully theirs…
Would they?

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