Is Romney's Mormon faith affecting votes?

There has been yet another twist in the race for the Republican presidential nomination Saturday. In a straw poll at the socially conservative Values Voter Summit, Ron Paul finished first with 37 percent, followed by Herman Cain with 23 percent and Rick Santorum with 16 percent. The other candidates trailed far behind.

The vote comes hard on the heels of a pastor's remarks that threaten to split a religious fault line wide open. CBS News correspondent Whit Johnson in Washington has the story.

With his Mormon faith once again under fire, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney tried to win over social conservatives.

"The blessings of faith carry the responsibility of civil and respectful debate," he said.

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Romney's speech at the Values Voter Summit comes a day after Texas mega pastor Robert Jeffress endorsed Governor Rick Perry.

"He is a genuine follower of Jesus Christ," Jeffress said of Perry.

Then Jeffress stole headlines when he expressed openly why he'd have trouble backing Romney.

"By theological definition Mormonism is a cult or a sect," he said.

Gov. Perry, who has dropped in recent polls, has said almost nothing about the controversy.

"Governor, is Mormonism a cult?" a reporter asked Perry, to which he replied, "No," as he was walking away.

Concerns about Romney's religion have plagued his candidacy since his previous run for president and prompted him to deliver a 2007 address about faith in America.

"I believe that Jesus Christ is the son of god and the savior of mankind," Romney said from that speech.

Whit Johnson asked Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, which helped organize this weekend's summit, if Romney is a Christian.

"There are theological differences between Mormonism and Christianity," said Perkins. "Evangelicals do not see Mormonism as Christianity."

He said that to win over evangelicals, Romney needs to stay laser-focused on the issues.

"These theological differences have been going on for generations. You're not going to change that in an election cycle," said Perkins.

In a CBS News poll out this week, 42 percent of white evangelicals said most people they know would not vote for a Mormon. That's bad for Romney, especially considering evangelicals made up 44 percent of Republican primary voters in 2008.

While Romney's speech at the summit was well received, many attendees still see a philosophical difference between Romney's faith and their own.

Johnson asked Scott Blakeman from Raleigh, North Carolina if he considered Mormonism is a cult? " A cult, yes," he replied.

"As a Christian I would obviously be more comfortable supporting a Christian with Christian biblical world views." said Victoria Jakelsky of Flemington, New jersey.

With primary voting about three months away, Romney is trying to re-establish himself as the front-runner focusing more on the economy than social values.

  • Whit Johnson

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