Starting Gate: Leap Of Faith

As you may have heard by now, Mitt Romney will deliver a speech tomorrow about the role of faith in America. This, of course, is a long-awaited speech coming from the only candidate in the race who is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. And it's one with will test the boundries of acceptance for Mormons – at least in a Republican Party in which evangelical Christians wield a lot of influence.

Romney is not expected to directly address the particulars of his faith, signaling instead that he will talk in more direct terms about the common values and the place faith should play in the public square. "This speech is an opportunity for Governor Romney to share his views on religious liberty, the grand tradition religious tolerance has played in the progress of our nation and how the governor's own faith would inform his Presidency if he were elected," his campaign said in a statement announcing the speech.

Whether Romney would deliver such a speech has been speculated on for months. Many evangelical Christians have doubts about Mormonism as it relates to their own religion and in a CBS News poll last spring, 43 percent of voters said they would not vote for a Mormon candidate for president.

But it's what many GOP primary voters don't know about the Mormon faith that might be the bigger hurdle for Romney. It's unclear how much, exactly, Republican activists in Iowa or South Carolina understand about it outside of commonly known elements like the church's past practice of polygamy (one which has been abandoned for generations). There hasn't been much press coverage of the theological beliefs of the church and, so far, even the few whispering campaigns have been relatively benign. Will this speech change that?

In talking to reporters about the speech this week, Romney repeated his insistence that he will not be a spokesperson for his church or his faith, saying that people who are interested in learning about it can read up in books or on the Internet. That might not be the best place for authoritative answers, however. A quick Internet search brings up Web sites which may cause as much confusion as clarity, including sites run by self-proclaimed ex-Mormons which are less-than flattering.

That may be the biggest risk in Romney's decision to open the doors on this topic, even indirectly. In the Internet age, misinformation can spread around the world before information even wakes up, let alone gets a chance to don its boots. Even authoritative sources, such as the church's official Web site may not answer the kinds of questions raised elsewhere.

It is unlikely Romney would have avoided questions about the Mormon faith. Indeed, Romney has been asked questions like whether he wears undergarments required by the church. He even got into a rather heated off-air debate with a Des Moines radio host over the belief that Jesus Christ will return to earth and rule partly from Missouri. We'll soon see whether such theological questions – fairly or unfairly-- become more wide-spread in this campaign.

Obama's Odd Silence: Tuesday's Democratic debate on Iowa Public Radio was a pretty civil affair. In fact, for two-thirds of the debate, which was focused on China and immigration, it was pretty hard to tell the candidates' positions apart. But some fireworks did fly early when discussing Iran and the latest National Intelligence Estimate that says the country stopped work on a nuclear weapon in 2003. Hillary Clinton was the target because of her vote for a Senate resolution declaring Iran's Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization – a move that amounts to "saber-rattling," according to critics.

Joe Biden, Chris Dodd, and particularly John Edwards took their shots at Clinton: "This has to be considered in the context that Senator Clinton has said she agrees with George Bush terminology that we're in a global war on terror, then she voted to declare a military group in Iran a terrorist organization. What possible conclusion can you reach other than we are at war?" Edwards said.

But when Obama spoke, he reserved his criticisms for the Bush administration. " It is absolutely clear that this administration and President Bush continues to not let facts get in the way of his ideology,'' the Illinois senator said.

Why didn't Obama engage Clinton on the issue? That could be due to the fact that while Biden and Dodd both voted against the resolution on the Revolutionary Guard, Obama missed the vote entirely while campaigning in New Hampshire. That fact has been well-reported, but Clinton made the missed vote a prominent part of a speech Monday that signaled her move to go on the offensive against her top rival – it's possible that Obama, perhaps wisely, didn't want to give Clinton the opportunity to bring that up on Tuesday.

But if Obama is trying to avoid a dig from Clinton, he's also denying himself the opportunity to capitalize on the NIE's findings when they're the top story in the news. That's not going to stall his apparent momentum in the polls, but it's one less weapon available to him when he needs it the most.

Who's Behind Those Calls? A group called TrustHuckabee, which says it is not "authorized by any candidate or candidate's committee," has been making phone calls in Iowa in support of Mike Huckabee. They have also been pushing negative information about his opponents.

Huckabee has disavowed the group and said he doesn't know who is behind it. "We've asked them to stop because it really defeats the kind of politics that I want the campaign to be a part of," he said.

But as the Washington Post pointed out in an editorial, "TrustHuckabee is backed by several individuals who co-hosted an Ohio fundraiser that Mr. Huckabee attended last month."

Now Mitt Romney's campaign has called on the Iowa attorney general to investigate the "allegedly illegal conduct" of the group.

"It is particularly offensive that a Mike Huckabee advocacy group would resort to a shadow effort using large sums of unregulated soft money to attack candidates by name with these reprehensible calls," Romney Communications Director Matt Rhoades said in a statement. "Governor Huckabee cannot just stand by and feign outrage as these coordinated attacks are made in his name and for his benefit."

Groups like TrustHuckabee, commonly known as 501(c)4s, exist in a legal grey area. The organization will not reveal its donors or spending. According to the Post, TrustHuckabee says it qualifies "for an exemption in campaign finance disclosure rules for nonprofit corporations that permits it to accept unlimited contributions from individuals, requires it to report only a part of its spending (what it does to expressly advocate Mr. Huckabee's election) and only requires disclosure of donors whose money is used for this express advocacy."

Giuliani Adviser Fingers Intelligence Community: From CBS News' Ryan Corsaro, on the trail with the Giuliani campaign:

A top adviser for Rudy Giuliani suspects that the intelligence community "leaking material calculated to undermine" President George W. Bush's policy on Iran.

Norman Podhoretz, who has been one of Giuliani's top foreign policy advisors since last spring, writes that he has "darker suspicions" about the intelligence officials behind the report, saying "the intelligence community, which has for some years now been leaking material calculated to undermine George W. Bush, is doing it again. This time the purpose is to head off the possibility that the President may order air strikes on the Iranian nuclear installations."

The comments were published in an article today on the website for Commentary Magazine.

The article was written in response to yesterday's news that the National Intelligence Estimate concludes Iran paused their attempts at building a nuclear weapon back in 2003. It also said the Iran is still continuing efforts to enrich Uranium.

Podhoretz claims intelligence agencies are "now bending over backward to counter what has up to now been a similarly universal view…that Iran is hell-bent on developing nuclear weapons."

Podhoretz approached President Bush and advisor Karl Rove in 2004, but failed in convincing them to take military action against Iran for attempting to become a nuclear power. President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have all made statements in the past month that warn Iran to cease pursuing nuclear power, which the country says would not be for military reasons.

Giuliani has mirrored the aggressive approach of Podhoretz towards Iran, but in a more political tone, saying only that Iran will not be allowed to go nuclear and that a military response by the United States to prevent that is "on the table."

In 2007, Podhoretz wrote, "Well, if we were to bomb the Iranians as I hope and pray we will, we'll unleash a wave of anti-Americanism all over the world that will make the anti-Americanism we've experienced so far look like a lovefest."

A father of the neo-conservative movement, he has said "Islamofascism" and the attacks on 9/11 were the beginning of "World War IV", and wrote a book on the subject, which was published last fall. He refers to the Cold War as the third world war.

Norman Podhoretz served at the National Information Agency during the 1980's, and President George W. Bush awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2004.

Around The Track

  • A new national poll from the Los Angeles Times and Bloomberg News shows Huckabee within striking distance of Giuliani, 17 percent to 23 percent for the New York City Mayor.
  • Iowa voters want more attention to policy on the campaign trail, according to the Iowa Poll. For Republicans, national security issues remain atop list of concerns while health care is a big issue for Democrats.
  • After claiming that Barack Obama's kindergarten essay revealed long-held presidential ambitions, and then being ridiculed just about everywhere for doing so, the Clinton campaign now says the whole thing was one big joke.
  • Despite frequent pundit claims that Bill Richardson is really just running for vice president, today the New Mexico governor said he's not interested in the No. 2 slot and wouldn't consider it if he doesn't get the Democratic nomination.