TAMPA---How times have changed.
Just hours before Mitt Romney was officially nominated to be the Republican presidential candidate here, conservative leader Ralph Reed told Whispers Mitt Romney has become a "hero" among evangelical voters.
During the fall presidential primaries, the conservative right was resistant to Romney and his Mormon faith, and a November Pew poll found only a third of white evangelicals considered Mormonism to be a Christian faith.
But Reed says Romney's speech at Liberty University—the world's largest Christian college—was the turning point for evangelical voters. In the speech, Romney defended traditional marriage and said Mormons and conservative Christians share common ground.
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"You really have to appreciate the religious history of America to see what a big moment it is to have a Mormon greeted like a hero at a fundamentalist, independent Baptist university," Reed said. "And to have evangelicals turning out in the largest numbers in history to vote for our ticket and not have a Protestant on it."
Reed attributed some of this shift to Romney's changed stance on abortion. When Romney was running for governor of Massachusetts, he promised abortion rights groups he would be a "good voice" for them. By 2005, however, he professed to be anti-abortion.
"They are not going to hold it against someone because they had a different view," Reed says. "The whole Evangelical theology is based on conversions, they are used to making converts. They don't take converts and kick 'em in the teeth. They hug them, they love on them."
Evangelicals, it seems, are content to treat Romney as their newest convert.
But Reed, who predicts Obama will get less than 25 percent of the evangelical vote in the fall, says he can't be too certain.
His group the Faith and Freedom Coalition held an event Sunday in Tampa ahead of the convention to get conservative voters excited about Romney. The group is also distributing voter packets to get out the vote for what Reed estimates are 8 million unregistered evangelical voters.
"[Evangelicals] are looking for people who share their stances on the issues," Reed said. "Reagan was divorced. He didn't go to church... And they voted for him."
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