Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich’s newly hired Iowa political director resigned on Tuesday after suggesting that some pastors would oppose Mitt Romney’s candidacy for the presidency and “expose the cult of Mormon.”
Craig Bergman made the comment while attending a focus group at an Iowa restaurant as an undecided voter and one week prior to joining the Gingrich campaign.
“There is a national pastor who is very much on the anti-Romney bandwagon,” said Bergman. “A lot of the evangelicals believe God would give us four more years of Obama just for the opportunity to expose the cult of Mormon … There’s a thousand pastors ready to do that.”
Bergman is no stranger to controversy in Iowa politics. He served as the Iowa political director for Ron Paul in 2008 and has also worked with former GOP candidate Alan Keyes. He also describes himself as a “rock ‘n roll cowboy.”
Earlier, Gingrich said he was going to run a campaign that was not negative, suggesting that is what the Romney and Obama campaigns would do. Gingrich also criticized the comments made a few months ago by Dallas pastor Robert Jeffress at the Value Voters Summit in Washington when the pastor said Mormonism is a “cult” after introducing Texas Gov. Rick Perry.
“Craig Bergman agreed to step away from his role with Newt 2012 today,” Gingrich spokesperson R.C. Hammond said in a statement. “He made a comment to a focus group prior to becoming an employee that is inconsistent with Newt’s 2012 pledge to run a positive and solutions orientated campaign.”
Linda Upmeyer, chairwoman for Gingrich’s campaign in Iowa, told the Des Moines Register that she has never heard her candidate make a negative comment about Mormonism.
“I’ve never had any discussion that resembled that with Speaker Gingrich,” confirmed Upmeyer.
In an interview with the Des Moines Register’s editorial board on Friday, Romney said he doesn’t think religion should play a role in the upcoming elections.
“I don’t think the particular faith of an individual should become an issue in a campaign, but again, it’s up to the people to decide what they want to do on their own,” he said. “I think campaigns would be unwise to make a particular faith an issue in the campaign.”
The most recent national polls show Gingrich leading Romney by a substantial margin of 40 to 23 percent. Iowa polls, meanwhile, show that Gingrich and Texas Congressman Ron Paul are tied for the lead with Romney in third place.