Mitt Romney began his day in New Hampshire by delivering a lengthy presentation on fiscal policy. But the swarm of reporters at the Manchester Rotary Club was only interested in asking the Mormon candidate about one thing: his upcoming speech on religion, scheduled for Thursday.
Romney plans to discuss religion and politics at the George Bush Presidential Library in College Station, Texas, on Thursday. The move instantly drew comparisons to John F. Kennedy's 1960 speech on his Catholic faith, but Romney said he would focus on a separate but related topic: the role of religion in American society.
Romney said he wouldn't seek to demystify his own beliefs because he isn't seeking a religious office.
"Because I'm not running for pastor in chief," Romney said. "I'm running for commander in chief. And there are ample opportunities for people who want to learn about a particular religion and its beliefs by going on Web sites or reading books. That's really not the job I'm running for. That's not the responsibility or the job I would take if I were president either. My job is to follow the Constitution and the rule of law and to do what's best for America."
Romney went on to take what might be considered an indirect jab at Mike Huckabee, whose campaign is running a TV advertisement that touts the Baptist minister's resume as a "Christian leader."
"And again, I think that a candidate or a president that tried to make his religion a defining feature of his campaign or his term in office would tend to divide the nation rather than bring us together," Romney said. "This is a nation which comes together in our unified desire to have our blessings of the creator."
Romney said he has been reading Jon Meacham's book "American Gospel," which delves into the Founding Fathers' faiths and how religion shaped the foundation of the United States as a religiously tolerant society.
"We have presidents who were Quakers. We have Unitarians — of course a Catholic president. We have a deist in President Jefferson," Romney said.
Romney said he drafted the speech last Thursday at his hotel in Boca Raton, Fla. The campaign says 400-500 people will attend the invitation-only event.