(Photo: Reuters / Rebecca Cook)
A Southern Baptist media guru is reaffirming his support for Mormon presidential candidate Mitt Romney and urges evangelicals to consider the person, and not the theology, when deciding their presidential choice.
Mark DeMoss, the founder of evangelical public relations firm The DeMoss Group, made his pick for the GOP nomination public when he accepted a volunteer campaign position for the former Massachusetts governor. DeMoss heralds Romney for his political experience, business acumen and his support for traditional values such as marriage between a man and a woman.
He asserted that these things are more significant than Romney's Mormon faith.
"I decided that it's more important for me that a candidate shares my values than it is [if] he or she shared my theology," said DeMoss, who also supported Romney during his 2008 run. "I don't have the tiniest bit of doubt that Gov. Romney shares my values on so many important issues."
DeMoss – whose PR firm represents such influential evangelicals and groups as Franklin Graham, Chuck Colson, and Campus Crusade for Christ – believes Christian voters mistakenly place theology over qualifications when they select a candidate for the presidency. Shared theology, he noted, is a benchmark that many Christians only use inside the church or church ministry.
"I don't know why we take a test that we don't apply anywhere else in life, for the most part, and apply it to the one job in America called president of the United States," he said. "I just don't agree with that."
Affirming Christian theology, he noted, does not mean that a leader will not disappoint voters or make a misstep. DeMoss pointed to disgraced pastor Ted Haggard as an example.
"He represented evangelicals as the president of the National Association of Evangelicals," said DeMoss. But as a result of his sex and drugs scandal, "he let a lot of people down."
Rather than focusing on theology, DeMoss urges Christian conservatives to focus on the candidate's character and qualifications.
Romney launched an exploratory committee last month to test the waters for a 2012 presidential campaign. He has yet to confirm or deny an official presidential campaign.
In the last election cycle, Romney ran for the GOP presidential nomination in 2008 and was a close contender to eventual nominee John McCain.
In his 2008 CPAC address, he noted he had 4 million supporters compared to McCain's 4.7 million.
During his previous campaign, Romney struggled to change perceptions of his Mormon faith.
A 2007 Pew poll revealed that in the months leading up to the 2008 primaries, a number of evangelicals – 41 percent – who described themselves as weekly church attenders said they would be less likely to vote for a Mormon.
DeMoss is optimistic that many evangelicals will have a change of heart in 2012.
Based on what he has heard during his travels, DeMoss commented, "I think more people, more evangelicals will get past [Romney's faith] in this election cycle than in the last election cycle."
Romney's popularity will likely grow since the top contender, Mike Huckabee, announced that he will not join the race for the presidency.
Before his announcement rejecting a 2012 run, Huckabee only led the field of Republican candidates by single-digit percentage points. Romney has since risen to the top of the polls after Huckabee's departure. However, his lead is a slim one – 2 percent higher than Sarah Palin, and 9 points higher than Newt Gingrich.
Frank Newport, the editor in chief of Gallup, called this election "unusual" for GOP candidates.
DeMoss cautioned, "If you had big momentum today, it would probably be too soon and you probably couldn't sustain it."
He refuted notions that the right GOP candidate has yet to emerge and described the current field of GOP candidates as talent-rich.
Of the talented candidate, DeMoss believes that Romney has the right combination of business and political experience and has a good chance to beat President Barack Obama.
The current GOP field of announced GOP presidential candidates consists of Herman Cain, Gingrich, Tim Pawlenty, Gary Johnson and Rick Santorum. The list of potential contenders still waiting on the wings includes Palin, Michele Bachmann, and former U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman. Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels announced early Sunday morning that he will not be entering the race.