Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is facing difficulties with some evangelical voters in Iowa who are troubled by his Mormon faith, which they consider not part of historic orthodox Christianity.
Although the former Massachusetts governor is still leading the pack in the important early voting state, a fellow Republican and former Baptist preacher is closing in from behind, benefiting from voters' dilemma with Mormonism.
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee's rise in Iowa has been fueled by evangelical Christians attracted to his conservative views and openness about the role of faith in his life.
In a new ad running in Iowa, Huckabee declares "faith doesn't just influence me, it really defines me."
On the other hand, Romney has refrained from addressing how his Mormon faith will influence his public duty despite intense curiosity by voters.
He has been able to garner evangelical support, as he did in South Carolina, but evangelicals in Iowa seem more uncomfortable with Romney's Mormon beliefs compared to fellow believers in other states.
"Mormons spend two years of their lives as missionaries, preaching an anti-Christian doctrine," said Iowa resident and Huckabee volunteer Barbara Heki, 51, according to the New York Times. "I don't want someone out there, if I can help it, who's going to be acting on an anti-Christian faith as the basis of their decision making."
Most poll respondents, however, are more reluctant to admit their bias against Mormonism.
A New York Times/CBS News poll in November of likely Iowa caucusgoers found that among evangelicals, 36 percent favored Huckabee and 22 percent Romney, even though respondents said in nearly equal numbers that both candidates share the values of most Iowans.
The poll also found that about two-thirds of Huckabee's supporters are evangelicals, compared with about one-third of Romney's.
"I'm concerned a lot of Christians are thinking about the values issues and forgetting about the creator behind the values issues," said Glenda Gherkey at a Huckabee event in Iowa, according to the New York Times. "I guess I feel like this country and this world needs a president who would be able to pray to the God of the Bible and he would be able to hear his prayers."
Gherkey then wondered out loud if Romney's prayer would "even get through."
Although Huckabee said he did not want to speak for or bad-mouth any other candidates, the former governor said, "My views are what they are. I don't think I've ever hidden where they come from."
The Southern Baptist Convention, the denomination which Huckabee belongs to, does not consider Mormons to be part of historic Christianity.
"I'm glad you've made your choice for me. I don't care why. I'm just glad you did," Huckabee joked.
In an Iowa straw poll last August, Huckabee, still unknown to many at the time, came in a surprising strong second-place behind Romney. The former Arkansas governor also came in a narrow second behind Romney at the Washington Values Voter Summit in October.