So, with Romney standing an excellent chance at winning the GOP nomination, the question was not if, but when he would have to address his faith.
If nothing else, the clumsiness of the comments by Mr. Jeffress, senior pastor at a Southern Baptist megachurch in Dallas, made Romney an object of sympathy and put Texas Gov. Rick Perry, whom Jeffress endorsed, on the spot. Governor Perry’s campaign has said the governor does not view Mormonism as a cult, but he has yet to disavow Jeffress. On Oct. 11, Romney called on Perry to repudiate the pastor’s comments.
“I think it ends up in some small way helping Romney,” says the Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. “People don’t want to be associated with an attack on someone’s religion like this.”
But even if Romney doesn’t gain from the episode, it’s still early enough in the presidential cycle that the Romney campaign has time to contain any negative fallout from the attention to his faith, should it come.
“I don’t know if this was a favor to Romney, but it’s probably better from the point of view of any campaign to have criticism like this come out early rather than last minute,” says John Green, an expert on religion and politics at the University of Akron in Ohio.