The speech was likely the most important of Romney's political career, and the event felt more like a State of the Union address than a campaign stop. Many of Romney's Boston-based staffers made the trip to Texas, and the Secret Service was out in force to protect former President George H.W. Bush, who introduced the former Massachusetts governor. The campaign even released a photograph of Governor Romney making final edits to his speech, as if to draw attention to the enormity of this event.
Although the comparisons are inevitable John F. Kennedy's iconic 1960 speech that dealt with the then Democratic nominee's Catholic faith, Governor Romney only briefly alluded to President Kennedy and did not mention him by name.
"Like him, I am an American running for president," Romney said. "I do not define my candidacy by my religion. A person should not be elected because of his faith nor should he be rejected because of his faith."
The biggest applause line from the invitation-only crowd of over 400 who filled the auditorium here came when Romney hearkened back to another political icon from his home state of Massachusetts—an American legend who achieved fame during the Revolutionary era, rather than the time of Camelot.
"Then Sam Adams rose, and said he would hear a prayer from anyone of piety and good character, as long as they were a patriot," Romney said. "And so together they prayed, and together they fought, and together, by the grace of God, they founded this great nation."
Romney has been reading Jon Meacham's book on the Founding Fathers and the role their faiths played in establishing the United States, and it was clear from his many references to the early days of the nation that their ideals of religious tolerance were on the candidate's mind.
"The conviction of the inherent and inalienable worth of every life is still the most revolutionary political proposition ever advanced," Romney said.
While Kennedy's 1960 speech emphasized the candidate's belief in a firm separation of church and state, Romney's speech promoted a symbiotic relationship between faith and American society. Romney said that rather than turning toward the "religion of secularism," the United States should bolster the role that faith plays in the public sphere.
"We should acknowledge the Creator, as did the Founders—in ceremony and word," Romney said. "He should remain on our currency, in our pledge, in the teaching of our history, and during the holiday season, nativity scenes and menorahs should be welcome in our public places."
Romney, who served two-and-a-half years in France as a missionary for the Mormon church, told reporters earlier in the week that if people want to learn more about Mormonism, they should seek out information through the wealth of available resources, including the Internet. In choosing not to delve into the specifics of his Mormon faith today, Romney leaves open the risk that rumors, innuendo and misconceptions about Mormonism will continue to swirl. That possibility is of particular concern among Christian evangelicals, who form a large percentage of Republican voters in early states like Iowa.
But by standing firmly by the tenants of his faith, Romney may succeed in assuaging some doubts that have been raised about whether he has any real convictions, especially in light of his position shift on abortion rights—one of the most important issues among evangelicals.
"Some believe that such a confession of my faith will sink my candidacy," Romney said. "If they are right, so be it. But I think they underestimate the American people. Americans do not respect believers of convenience. Americans tire of those who jettison their beliefs, even to gain the world."