The Brody File has learned that Mitt Romney’s campaign has begun a serious push to engage evangelical leaders behind the scenes, including weekly meetings, personal phone calls from Romney, discussions about appearing at more faith-based events, and serious dialogue about convening a gathering this fall with national evangelical leaders.
In just the last few weeks, Mitt Romney has spoken on the phone a couple times with popular evangelical pastor Rick Warren, and there have been efforts to try and schedule a face-to-face meeting between Romney and Dr. James Dobson, one of the most respected evangelical leaders in the country.
Peter Flaherty, a senior advisor for the Romney campaign, has been the main liaison when it comes to outreach within the conservative Christian community. He has spoken and met with numerous influential conservative Christian leaders, including regular meetings with Jim Daly, Tim Goeglin and Tom Minnery from Focus on the Family, Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, President Ralph Reed with the Faith and Freedom Coalition, Dr. Richard Land with The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, Rev. Sammy Rodriguez with the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, Gary Bauer with American Values, Bob Reccord with the Council for National Policy, and Mark Rodgers, a former senior advisor to Rick Santorum.
Tim Goeglein, a special assistant to George W. Bush and now a vice president for Focus on the Family, tells The Brody File that, “The Romney team has done a fine job of reaching out and keeping us in the loop. Our relationships have steadily built over the course of the last year and a half. They have been pro-active about picking strategic times in which to share information and that will be particularly helpful over the course of the next few months.”
The Romney campaign has also struck up an important relationship with Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. Romney needs to perform well among Hispanic voters and Rodriguez is a key conduit in this area. They’ve been meeting with him regularly since wrapping up the nomination.
“I stand convinced the governor appreciates the significance of the Hispanic electorate and he refuses to give up the Hispanic vote without a fight. He has made a 180-degree turn and is headed to a significant Hispanic outreach,” Rodriguez tells The Brody File.
While the Romney campaign is making a serious push to bring evangelical leaders on board, it isn’t so much the leaders that need convincing. Rather, the focus now is on getting the conservative evangelical base motivated. To that end, The Brody File has learned that last week around 70 conservative Christian leaders met in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., to discuss what it would take to get behind Romney.
The meeting was off the record but the goal was to figure out ways to get the conservative Christian base mobilized and excited about the GOP presidential nominee. Many at the meeting were those who attended a similar meeting in Texas during the GOP Primary when those same leaders were trying to figure out which Republican candidate to get behind.
While no final plan was hatched, there is now more communications going back and forth between this group and the Romney campaign where ideas and concerns are being communicated about how best to mobilize the base. What is clear is that evangelical leaders are mostly on board with Romney but their constituencies are not quite there yet.
FRC President Tony Perkins, who was designated as a spokesman for the group, would not comment on the specifics of the off the record meeting. But he did say, "President Obama has brought the intensity level to 80 percent but if the Romney campaign feels like the base is already there just because of Obama, that’s a huge, huge mistake. The base of the conservative movement is not there yet. Can they get there? I think so.”
Rodriguez, who has developed a good working relationship with the campaign, still knows that there is some serious work to be done with the base.
“The bridge between reluctancy and enthusiasm as it pertains to the Romney candidacy is called trust. Can evangelicals trust Romney not only to fix the economy but also will Romney defend life, strengthen the family, push back on the incursions regarding religious liberty as made evident by the HHS mandate? In other words, can evangelicals trust Romney with the trifecta of evangelical concerns; faith, family and freedom? Upcoming meetings with evangelical leaders may very well begin to answer the question," he said.
Those meetings are expected to happen in the next couple months. Meanwhile, no faith-based speaking engagements have been announced but a few are currently in the works. In the meantime, the Romney campaign has given indications that they’re not taking this conservative evangelical crowd for granted.
Once Rick Santorum exited the race, Matt Rhoades, Romney’s campaign manager reached out quickly to Michael Biundo, the plugged-in social conservative who ran Santorum’s campaign. He was named deputy coalitions director and has since been attending weekly conservative meetings in Washington, D.C., hosted by influential leaders like Grover Norquist, Ed Meese, and Morton Blackwell.
Biundo’s conduit into those gatherings is Bay Buchanan, a Romney advisor who knows most of the leaders personally and has been attending these meetings on behalf of the Romney campaign since the 2012 race began. She says she’s noticed how the views toward Romney have really shifted over the last month or so. President Obama’s shift on gay marriage, his recent Executive Order on immigration policy, and Obamacare have leaders greatly concerned for America’s future.
“It went from we’re with you to a real sense of urgency. Leaders are now calling on one another to put any differences behind them and join the Romney effort now. There is a sense that Obama is reckless and becoming more and more brazen as his presidency moves on. It has unnerved them,” she said.
Asked by The Brody File whether evangelicals will have a seat at the table under a Romney administration, Buchanan replied, “They will always be well represented.”
In The Brody File’s just released book called, The Teavangelicals, new details emerge about how Romney has been discreetly courting evangelical leaders for years. During a private meeting at his home in the Boston suburbs in 2006, Ann and Mitt Romney visited with more than a dozen evangelical leaders, including Franklin Graham, the late Jerry Falwell, Richard Land, Jay Sekulow, Frank Wright, and Gary Bauer.
They sat in a circle and ate sandwiches while discussing topics like the fight against radical Islam, stem cell research, and Romney’s Mormon faith. About a month later, all the evangelical attendees received a giant box. Inside was a chair with a brass plate on the back of it. Inscribed on the plate was Romney’s signature with the words, ‘There will always be a seat for you at our table.’
In 2009, about a year after Romney’s failed presidential bid, he met with a group of influential pastors in the Atlanta area. Attendees included Andy Stanley (North Point Community Church), Louie Giglio (Passion City Church), Randy Pope (Perimeter Presbyterian), and Richard Lee (First Redeemer Church). Earlier in this 2012 presidential campaign, Romney met privately with top executives from Focus on the Family for one hour at their headquarters in Colorado Springs.
Just recently, Romney gave the commencement address at Liberty University, the largest evangelical college in the country.
“The Liberty commencement address continues to serve us well and I've sent it to many people who were not there and had not read it. The reaction I've received has been overwhelmingly, if not unanimously positive and enthusiastic,” says Mark DeMoss, Romney’s evangelical advisor. While at Liberty, Romney also visited with the Falwell family.
As for the future, evangelical leaders tell The Brody File that Romney will go a long way to securing the base of the party if he picks a good vice-presidential candidate. Acceptable nominees could be Tim Pawlenty, Mike Huckabee, Bob McDonnell, Rick Santorum, Bobby Jindal, and Marco Rubio.
Also crucial will be for Romney to include more pro-family language as part of his stump speech. Many leaders feel he needs to conceptualize evangelical type issues as he goes around the country, including a defense of this country’s Judeo-Christian principles and an explanation of the nation’s fiscal crisis in moral terms.