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Facing Santorum, Romney Talks Up Service As Mormon Bishop

It’s a credential in the culture wars.

As Mitt Romney looks forward to Super Tuesday — where he’ll have to beat a populist with blue-collar credentials in Rick Santorum, and a Southern candidate in Newt Gingrich — the nominal frontrunner appears to be taking a calculated risk: Talking about his religion.

In an unusual move, Romney today brought up his service in the lay ministry of the Mormon Church, hoping the unique experience will humanize him and give him some culture war credibility.

Speaking to supporters in Atlanta, Georgia, Romney told of the hardships he encountered among his flock when he served as bishop of a Boston-area LDS congregation.

“I found that those kinds of circumstances were not just about money or numbers, they were about lives and emotions,” he said.

As the candidate heads to struggling post-industrial states where Santorum’s pro-manufacturing message and background could hold real appeal, Romney will need to close the income gap between his natural base of supporters that of his rivals. Talking up his unique interactions with financially struggling congregants could convince the unemployed that he feels their pain—at least a little.

But his church service could also play a role in the culture war battles that have suddenly consumed the GOP primary. From the Komen controversy to the HHS/Catholic Church scuffle, and this week’s Proposition 8 ruling, Romney’s experience as a lay minister could help brand him as an especially credible defender of religious liberty (despite his flip-flop on the contraception issue).

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McKay Coppins is a senior writer for the BuzzFeed News politics team, and the author of a forthcoming book, The Wilderness, about the battle over the future of the Republican Party.
Contact McKay Coppins at mckay@buzzfeed.com
 
 
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