In Romney's 2008 bid for the presidential nomination, he openly courted evangelical leaders and directly confronted concerns about his Mormonism, including a major speech in which he promised "no authorities of my church" will influence his policies. This election year, Romney barely mentions his religion unless an issue arises while campaigning.
Instead, he has tried to appeal to religious conservatives by stressing his shared values with them on concerns such as traditional marriage, especially as social issues took prominence in the campaign due in part to the ascendance of Santorum. Campaigning Thursday in Huntsville, Ala., Santorum called the state the "heart of conservatism."
If Romney too heavily emphasizes social policies, he would also draw attention to his former stand in favor of legalized abortion.
Mark DeMoss, a public relations veteran and evangelical adviser to the Romney campaign, said there is no plan to change that strategy on religion. He said the former governor will keep his focus on "the state of the economy and uncertainty about jobs."
"I think those issues cross all segments of voters," DeMoss said.
This means missed opportunities for connecting with religious voters.
DeMoss said Romney doesn't visit church services as part of his campaign. The weekend before Super Tuesday, Santorum and his family attended Sunday worship at a Southern Baptist megachurch in Tennessee, where the pastor invited them to stand before the congregation and receive a blessing, according to Associated Baptist Press. Romney finished second to Santorum in Tennessee.
"Churches are largely the social and cultural centers in these communities and the minister usually has the largest microphone, so building real and authentic relationships with people of faith is pretty essential," said Burns Strider, a Mississippi native and adviser on faith outreach to Democrats, including Hillary Rodham Clinton when she sought the party's 2008 presidential nomination. "It doesn't mean it requires Sunday worship services, but there are plenty of other opportunities."
AP Religion Writer Rachel Zoll reported from New York. AP Deputy Director of Polling Jennifer Agiesta reported from Washington.
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