Romney returns to Iowa

DES MOINES, Iowa Fri Dec 7, 2007 4:29pm EST

U.S. Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, speaks to the media following a campaign stop at Fort Des Moines, Iowa, December 7, 2007. REUTERS/Jason Reed

U.S. Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, speaks to the media following a campaign stop at Fort Des Moines, Iowa, December 7, 2007.

Credit: Reuters/Jason Reed

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DES MOINES, Iowa (Reuters) - A day after he assured Americans the Mormon church would not run the White House if he were elected president, Republican Mitt Romney returned to Iowa on Friday to face voters still divided over his candidacy.

While Romney's first Iowa appearance after his impassioned speech in Texas was about military affairs, voters who turned out in snowy Des Moines to see the former Massachusetts governor were still talking about his religious faith.

"I haven't decided whether I could vote for a non-Christian for president," said Christian pastor and military chaplain Chris Magnell, 34.

While Magnell said that while he liked Romney's stand on military affairs and the economy -- and believed he has strong moral values -- he did not believe Mormons were Christians. He's concerned evangelical Christians, who make up about 40 percent of likely Iowa voters, will not support a Mormon.

"It's important that there should not be a religious litmus test for a president ... but I'm not sure whether evangelical Christians will vote for him. Does it make him unelectable?"

Romney barely mentioned religion during his one-hour stop at a military museum on the outskirts of Des Moines except to say that Americans are strong because they believe in something greater than themselves -- even if it isn't God.

"Let's leave our kids these kind of values ... that the future can be brighter than the past," he told about 50 voters and nearly as many members of the media who crowded into the museum's reception room.

Romney is fighting to halt a slide in support in Iowa, where former Arkansas Gov. and Baptist preacher Mike Huckabee has surged into the lead in many polls. On January 3, Iowa kicks off voting to choose the Republican and Democratic candidates who will face off in the November 2008 presidential election.

Magnell said he had not yet made up his mind whether to support Romney or Huckabee in January.

VALUES TRUMP RELIGION

That sentiment was shared by husband and wife Tim and Lelahni Plasier, who said they had narrowed their choice down to either Huckabee or Romney because both men had strong moral values. The two are front-runners in Iowa, while former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani leads Republicans in national polls.

"Their religions are different but their core values are very similar, and that's probably why we've settled between Romney and Huckabee," said software consultant Tim, 29. He said he'd been moved by the parts of Romney's Texas speech that he'd heard on the radio.

"Just the passion and honesty, the refusal to kowtow to pressures. I'm a Christian, and that's important, but it's important that he has convictions and is not blowing whichever way the wind is blowing," Plasier said.

"I'd rather him be a Mormon than have no religion at all," added Lelahni, 28.

Others in the audience said they'd already decided on Romney before his impassioned speech in Texas and that his religion did not matter.

"I like his stance on terrorism, on the borders, that he's a family man. He's the only Republican as far as I know who's only had one marriage," said Dixie Belluchi-Watters, 46.

A stay-at-home mother, Belluchi-Watters said Romney had hit just the right tone in Texas -- and was right to say a candidate should not be elected or rejected because of his religious faith.

"We're electing a president to protect our nation, we're not electing someone to lead our church," she said. "I probably could not vote for an atheist, but his religion is not what I'm voting on. That's his personal life."

(Editing by Eric Walsh)

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