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Is Romney Gaining Ground With Evangelical Leaders?

CBS News' Scott Conroy reports:

The morning papers carried two pieces of news that indicate Mitt Romney, whose Mormon faith has been an issue in this campaign, is making progress in winning over evangelical Christians.

The New York Times reports that Mark DeMoss, a prominent evangelical publicist, wrote a five-page letter to 150 conservative Christian leaders urging them to rally around Romney's candidacy.

"After spending months researching his life and his record, and hours with him (and his wife and staff) in his home, his office and on the road, I am convinced his values practically mirror my own," DeMoss wrote.

Meanwhile, The Washington Times reports that two other big-name evangelicals heaped praise upon Romney yesterday. Family Research Council President Tony Perkins and American Values President Gary Bauer praised Romney while criticizing Mike Huckabee — the GOP candidate and Baptist minister whose theology might be most in line with theirs.

Though polls continue to show a sizable percentage of the electorate thinks America is not ready to elect a Mormon president, DeMoss, Perkins and Bauer argued that shared values are more important than shared theology.

"We've had a real constant and steady growth of support with conservatives and evangelical leadership," Romney spokesperson Kevin Madden told CBS News.

Romney's previous support of abortion rights has exposed him to accusations of being inconsistent on an issue that is critical to evangelical voters. But several prominent Christian conservative leaders have pointed out that they are in the business of converting people on abortion and should not automatically reject someone who's changed his views.

"I always thought the pro-life movement existed for the purpose of influencing hearts and mind on the issue of life, and historically, we have celebrated converts to our side," DeMoss wrote.

Romney will soon get a prime opportunity to prove himself to Christian conservatives at the Values Voter Summit in Washington on Oct. 19 and 20, where he, along with the rest of the GOP field, is expected to speak.