DES MOINES Republican presidential contender Newt Gingrich's new political director in Iowa resigned on Tuesday after negative comments he made about rival Mitt Romney's Mormon religion came to light.
Craig Bergman's comments were made last Wednesday and reported on Tuesday by The Iowa Republican, a website that promotes Republican causes in the state.
Bergman told a voter focus group sponsored by The Iowa Republican and McClatchy newspapers that Romney's religion could hurt him with Iowa's influential evangelical conservatives.
"A lot of the evangelicals believe God would give us four more years of (Democrat Barack) Obama just for the opportunity to expose the cult of Mormon," Bergman said. "There's a thousand pastors ready to do that."
Bergman made the comment before joining the Gingrich campaign. He reportedly was hired last Thursday, a day after the remarks were made.
Gingrich campaign spokesman R.C. Hammond said Bergman "agreed to step away from his role with Newt 2012 today."
"He made a comment to a focus group prior to becoming an employee that is inconsistent with Newt 2012's pledge to run a positive and solutions orientated campaign," Hammond said.
Iowa on January 3 holds caucuses that mark the first U.S. nominating contest in the battle to determine which Republican will face President Barack Obama in the November 2012 election.
Bergman's comment surfaced on a day Gingrich vowed to keep the campaign as positive as possible.
(Reporting By Steve Holland and Deborah Charles; Editing by Vicki Allen)