Today was easily the most important, pivotal day of Mitt Romney presidential campaign, and possibly the most important day of his life. He made The Speech today, the long awaited speech in which he directly addressed the Mormon issue.
He had to make this speech, given that Mike Huckabee is coming up fast in Iowa, and the nation as a whole. The "Mormon issue" has overshadowed his campaign. Everyone thinks of him as the "Mormon candidate". Significant media attention has gone to the question of whether or not he can win the nomination of a largely evangelical Christan Republican Party.
Really, the whole debate is unnecessary. It is not always inappropriate to look at a candidates faith. For example, were a Muslim to run for President, many would be very hesitant to support him. It would certainly be important to ascertain his stance regarding the more radical forms of Islam. Others religions also spring to mind, a serious Scientologist , a Jack Chick fundamentalist, or an especially radical atheist.
But a Mormon? It is very difficult to think of any situation where his Mormonism would be an issue. The birth of the Mormon religion was bizarre, what with the polygamy and all, but the religion has evolved to the point where its most distinguishing feature is enthusiastic evagelization . Mormons as a group are very conservative, more so than Catholics or Protestants. (Mormon Utah went 75% for Bush in 2004).
And precedent does not help those who feel that it is inappropriate for a Mormon to reside in the White House. Orrin Hatch is a Mormon. So is Harry Reid. Glenn Beck is too. None of these individuals seems to be a puppet of the Church of Latter Day Saints.
Furthermore, another Mormon ran for office in the late Sixties. How did the intolerant people of the time react to this? They didn't. Nobody cared that George Romney was a Mormon.
All that being said, Mitt Romney still had to give the speech. The media attention focusing on his Mormonism distracted from his policy positions. Polls indicated (and still indicate) that around one third of Americans would never vote for a Mormon. Romney had to at least try to assuage these concerns.
And he succeeded. In fact, he could hardly fail to succeed. It is my view that much of the controversy surrounding his religion has been generated by the media. Many people figured that with all of the media attention surrounding the religion issue, there must be something there. No smoke without fire. Since he has made the speech that so many were waiting for, it is my belief that many will assume that he has nothing to hide, that perhaps Mormonism is not such an insidious threat to our most beloved institutions.
The fact that he gave a very good, rallying speech also helped. It apparently blew the influential Rush Limbaugh away, as he gave it very high marks. Romney definitely sounded decisive, thoughtful-- and Presidential. When he bluntly proclaimed that "some believe that such a confession of my faith will sink my candidacy. If they are right, so be it", he sounded, for perhaps the first time in this campaign season, assured and forceful.
That Romney's speech went over so well is truly disastrous news for Rudy Giuliani. In little more than a week, he has managed to get both involved in an ethics scandal because of his regrettable habit of conducting affairs on the taxpayers dime and lose the Republican lead to Mike Huckabee (in the Rasmussen poll). He has made little news in the week since the last debate, now, he will lose another news cycle as pundits dissect Romney's speech.
By giving The Speech, Mitt Romney has attracted a huge amount of attention to his campaign, at least partially solved the Mormon problem, got accolades from Rush, and has put himself at the top of the news cycle going into the holidays and the Iowa caucuses. Romney's campaign depended on his ability to pull off The Speech--and he did.