DES MOINES, Iowa -- A top Romney adviser, speaking on a not-for-attribution basis, said Friday that the former governor's percentage of the vote in the Iowa caucuses will be "held down to some degree by the Mormon factor. It's just a fact of life that we know we have to deal with."
The adviser might have made the statement in part to hold down expectations about Mitt Romney -- which have been rising steadily -- but it also highlights a significant and ongoing problem that Romney faces with evangelical and other voters: their skepticism and even fear of his deep Mormon faith.
Romney's religion is one reason why some GOP strategists and others think he could be a weaker-than-normal candidate for them in the Bible Belt South and elsewhere where conservative Christians are a key factor.
The Romney camp's own concern was on display this weekend as the crucial final Sunday before the Iowa caucuses approached. Evangelical voters in Iowa constitute perhaps 40 to 50 percent of the turnout. Rep. Michele Bachmann, furiously courting them, announced on Saturday that she "will provide her testimony" at Jubilee Family Church in Oskaloosa on Sunday. "In the past two days," her campaign said, "she has secured 22 additional pastor and faith leader endorsements, totaling more than 200 men and women of faith who support her candidacy. She has representation from the faith community in all 99 Iowa counties."
Former Sen. Rick Santorum, who is Catholic, will attend mass tomorrow, a campaign aide said, and named the specific church where he would do so.
But even though Romney told The Huffington Post in an interview on Thursday that he attends church every week, his campaign did not put the event on his Sunday schedule -- his published schedule begins in the early afternoon -- and an aide declined to say where or when he would attend Mormon services in the Des Moines area.
Bachmann, Santorum and Texas Gov. Rick Perry are the three main contenders for the evangelical vote. All have staff and personal ties to the conservative Christian who beat Romney here in 2008, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.
Huckabee has not endorsed a candidate this time but, ironically, would have to be considered a leading contender for the veep slot should Romney win the Republican nomination.
Power pastors in Iowa -- and they are legion -- have generally refrained from commenting on Romney and Mormonism. And Romney has stressed economic issues in Iowa.
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