Mitt Romney beats Rick Perry among all Republicans -- men, women, young, old -- except the "very conservative," The Wall Street Journal's Gerald F. Seib observes. Perhaps that's why Perry didn't distance himself too much from Robert Jeffress, the Dallas preacher who called Mormonism a "cult." And why, as The Daily Beast's McKay Coppins reports, another important minister who's a big backer of Perry has been emailing supporters about the need to start "juxtaposing traditional Christianity to the false God of Mormonism."
David Lane was in charge of raising money for the national prayer meeting in early August that was the unofficial kickoff to Perry's presidential campaign. He was among the key Christian leaders who pushed Perry to run, Time's Amy Sullivan reports. On October 12, Dick Bott, head of the Chrstian talk Bott Radio Network, emailed Lane that he would be interviewing Jeffress, saying Jeffress was right to question Romney's faith: "What would anyone think if a candidate were a Scientologist? ... Shouldn't they want to know what the implications were that may flow therefrom?"
On October 13, Lane replied: "Thank you for what you are doing and for your leadership. Getting out Dr. Jeffress message, juxtaposing traditional Christianity to the false god of Mormonism, is very important in the larger scheme of things ... We owe Dr. Jeffress a big thank you."
Coppins says the emails give reason to wonder whether Jeffress's comments were "a deliberate strategic move by the campaign." He notes that in other emails, Lane talks about talking with a "key Perry aide" about "the creation of a clarion call to Evangelical pastors and pews is critical and from my perspective is the key to the Primary."
Lane stood by his comments in an email to "friends" after the story was posted, Real Clear Politics' Scott Conroy reports. Lane pointed to a story in The New York Times about Romney's role in his church and how he counseled a young alcoholic "Are you trying to improve, are you trying to do better? And if you are, then you’re a saint." Lane said that belief was "not Christian." He continued in his email, "If the secular Press' bullying over the 'cult issue' fails to censor those voices who are calling into question the theological legitimacy of a 'group sharing belief' (political correctness for Cult), Romney is going to have to defend his and the Mormon's 'bizarre' Articles of Faith."
"Polling conducted for the Washington Post and ABC News, Gallup, and the Pew Research Center in recent months has shown between 20 and 25 percent of Americans say they either won’t vote for a Mormon or would be less likely to vote for one," The Washington Post's Aaron Blake writes. Social conservative voters in Iowa -- where Perry needs to do well in the caucuses -- aren't likely to vote for Romney. But Mormons were a quarter of the voters in Nevada's caucuses in 2008; 95 percent of them voted for Romney. Politico's Maggie Haberman observes that "The surest way for Perry to get a second look is for Romney's negatives to go up -- a fact his supporters seem to realize." After all, as The Journal's Seib notes, "60 percent of very conservative voters still say they have overall positive feelings about Mr. Romney."