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Gingrich Iowa staffer resigns after "cult of Mormon" comment

Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich. AP Photo/Cheryl Senter

Less than a week after being tapped as Newt Gingrich's political director in Iowa, Craig Bergman resigned on Tuesday for suggesting evangelicals are ready to help God "expose the cult of Mormon."

In a focus group conducted before he officially joined the Gingrich campaign, Bergman, a Tea Party supporter who previously advocated on behalf of Sarah Palin, suggested that a "national pastor" could lead an effort to defeat Mitt Romney over his religion.

"There is a national pastor who is very much on the anti-Mitt Romney bandwagon," Bergman said, according to the Iowa Republican, which sponsored the focus group with McClatchy newspapers. "A lot of the evangelicals believe God would give us four more years of Obama just for the opportunity to expose the cult of Mormon...There's a thousand pastors ready to do that."

In a Tuesday night statement, Gingrich spokesman R. C. Hammond said Bergman's comments were "inconsistent with" how Gingrich wants to run his campaign.

"Craig Bergman agreed to step away from his role with Newt 2012 today," said Hammond in a statement. "He made a comment to a focus group prior to becoming an employee that is inconsistent with Newt 2012's pledge to run a positive and solutions orientated campaign."

The incident demonstrates the risks run by the Gingrich campaign in its last-minute push to staff up in Iowa in the wake of the former House speaker's surge to the top of the polls.

According to the Des Moines Register, Gingrich's Iowa campaign chair says she's never heard Gingrich speak about Mormonism in pejorative terms.

"I've never had any discussion that resembled that with Speaker Gingrich," Linda Upmeyer said of Bergman's remarks. "I have no doubt there are people that reject Mormonism but I've never engaged in a conservation regarding that, ever."

This is not the first time the word "cult" has been applied to Mormonism in reference to Romney during the 2012 presidential election cycle.

In October, a pastor associated with Texas Governor Rick Perry leveled a similar charge against Mormonism - a faith to which both Romney and fellow GOP hopeful Jon Hunstman belong.

Of the October incident, Romney said that while he's "heard worse,"the comments have no place in politics.

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