NEW ORLEANS – Mitt Romney is conspicuously absent from the Southern Republican Leadership Conference here, but he is not going unrepresented: As attendees streamed out of the main hall Thursday night following fiery speeches from Liz Cheney and Newt Gingrich, a ten-year-old boy sheepishly asked them if they would like a free pin proclaiming their support for the former Massachusetts governor.
The boy was with “Evangelicals for Mitt,” a largely self-funded group formed back in 2006 that is hoping to keep Romney on the minds of conference-goers even as he continues his book tour elsewhere.
The ten-year-old (really, he’s nine) is my son, Austin. He’d gotten tired of reading a book and picked up a bag of buttons and started handing them out. And the reporter’s right — he was quite sheepish about it, and that little experiment in activism lasted for all of thirty minutes. He has since finished his book and is proud to have been referenced on the CBS website. The reporter, Brian Montopoli, tracked me down, and I got a chance to talk about who we are and why we’re here:
David French, co-founder of the group with his wife, is part of the Presbyterian Church of America; he says Romney’s Mormonism is not a problem because Romney “shares our core values.”
“We’re electing a president, and not a pastor,” said French. “His faith actually makes him a more appealing candidate to me.” French added that “Mormons and evangelicals are fellow travelers in a lot of the cultural battles that are taking place around the country.”
“Evangelicals for Mitt” placed an ad on the first page of the conference guidebook given to all attendees showing a piggy bank and the words “the economy is a moral issue.” The ad encouraged evangelicals to “unite — early — behind the right candidate. He’s pro-life, pro-traditional marriage, and the guy knows how to balance a checkbook.”
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