Nightly News   |  October 10, 2011

Romney addresses criticism of his faith

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney answered some harsh attacks on his Mormon faith — some of which he has heard before. NBC's Chuck Todd reports.

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BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: On the political front, jobs and the economy took a backseat to religion this past weekend as top Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney answered some harsh attacks on his Mormon faith, some of which he has heard and addressed before. Our chief White House correspondent Chuck Todd has our report.

Former Governor MITT ROMNEY: Thanks.

Unidentified Man: ...the next few weeks.

Gov. ROMNEY: You're very kind.

CHUCK TODD reporting: Mitt Romney today in New Hampshire trying to maintain his front-runner status.

Gov. ROMNEY: Thanks so much. Let's see , where did you serve?

TODD: But an attack over the weekend on Romney's Mormon faith has injected a potentially toxic new tone in the campaign.

Reverend ROBERT JEFFRESS (First Baptist Church of Dallas): Mitt Romney 's a good, moral person, but he's not a Christian. Mormonism is not Christianity . It has always been considered a cult by the mainstream of Christianity .

TODD: Romney , who addressed the issue of his faith in the last campaign, said such attacks damage the Republican Party .

Gov. ROMNEY: Poisonous language doesn't advance our cause. It's never softened a single heart nor changed a single mind.

TODD: At issue for evangelical Christians is how Christ fits into Mormonism . While Mormons share a belief in salvation through Jesus , their own scripture, The Book of Mormon , expands on the fundamental Christian teachings of the Bible .

Mr. RICHARD LAND (The Ethics Religious Liberty Commission): Anybody who reads The Book of Mormon or reads the teachings of the Mormon Church , if they're an orthodox Christian they're going to come away saying this is not -- this is not Apostles' Creed , Nicene Creed , standard boilerplate Christianity .

TODD: But Romney may have bigger political challenges ahead, as signaled by this new Perry attack ad .

TODD: While not yet running as a paid ad on TV , it got Romney's attention today.

Gov. ROMNEY: You're going to find on a campaign like this that people who are running against me are going to take what I've said and try and turn it to say something else.

TODD: But while Perry and Romney spar as if it's only a two-man race, there's

a third candidate surging in the polls: former Godfather's Pizza CEO Herman Cain .

Mr. HERMAN CAIN: I'm ready for the gotcha questions, and they're already starting to come. And when they ask me who's the president of ubekibekibekibekistanstan, I'm going to say, 'You know, I don't know. Do you know?' And then I'm going to say, 'How's that going to create one job?'

TODD: Cain may not have held public office, but he has another type of public record, his Atlanta talk radio archives...

Offscreen Voice: This is Herman Cain on AM 750.

TODD: ...where he fronted a nightly talk show for three years starting in early 2008 .

Mr. CAIN: I had a caller one night who asked the question, 'What do you mean by take back our government?' I simply mean that our government has been hijacked by ultraliberals.

TODD: Cain gets a new seat at tomorrow's debate, center stage. The question is, unlike other conservative shooting stars of the campaign, can he stay there? Chuck Todd , NBC News, Washington.