(CBS News) Brian Schweitzer, Montana's Democratic governor, invoked sensitive elements of Mitt Romney's family history Wednesday, noting in an interview with the Daily Beast that the presumptive Republican presidential candidate's "family came from a polygamy commune in Mexico."
The governor, who clarified that "I am not alleging by any stretch that Romney is a polygamist and approves of polygamy," and who did not explicitly criticize this element of Romney's history, was discussing the fact that the former Massachusetts governor's father was born in Mexico.
Schweitzer argued that it was not in Romney's interest to claim ties to the Hispanic community even though his father was born in Mexico because "then he'd have to talk about his family coming from a polygamy commune in Mexico." And women in America, he contended, are "not great fans of polygamy."
According to multiple accounts, including a report by the Boston Globe, Schweitzer's description of Romney's family history is accurate. Romney's father, George, was born in Mexico on a Mormon compound founded by his grandfather, Miles Park Romney, who had four wives. But neither George Romney nor his father (Mitt's grandfather) Gaskell Romney practiced polygamy.
Some conservatives are blasting Schweitzer's comment as inappropriate and irrelevant.
In the conservative magazine Commentary, writer Jonathan S. Tobin called Schweitzer's comments a "nasty piece of business" and "no more relevant to the 2012 campaign than an investigation into the marital practices of President Obama's ancestors in Kenya."
"Imagine if a Republican governor of an equally obscure state were to make comments about Obama's family tree," Tobin wrote. "The furor would be tremendous, and the incident would be treated in the mainstream media as emblematic of GOP racism."
Indeed, Mr. Obama's father also apparently practiced polygamy. According to the New York Times and other accounts, Mr. Obama's father had a wife in Kenya even while he was married to Mr. Obama's mother, Ann Dunham.
The Romney campaign did not respond to a request for comment, but the Obama campaign did send a statement to the Daily Beast arguing that targeting a candidate's religion is "out of bounds."
"Attacking a candidate's religion is out of bounds, and our campaign will not engage in it, and we don't think others should either," said Obama campaign spokesperson Lis Smith.