Christian Conservatives At Florida Revival Are Lukewarm For Mitt Romney

WINTER PARK, Fla. -- Few if any of the Christian conservatives here at The Awakening conference said they would name Mitt Romney as their first choice for president. But whether they are worried about his politics or his Mormon religion, many said the former Massachusetts governor is a better choice than President Barack Obama.

"This is the most important election in our lifetime," said Matt Barber, vice president of Liberty Counsel Action, whose organization is a co-sponsor of the two-day conference aimed at jump-starting a religious revival to help defeat Obama.

A vocal critic of Romney who remains "skeptical" of the presumptive Republican nominee, Barber said he was putting aside his reservations because the person elected in 2012 will likely name two or three justices to the U.S. Supreme Court. "For that reason alone, to have Barack Obama re-elected is simply not an option. He has already appointed two radical, secular, socialist justices," Barber said.

When asked if he was enthusiastic about Romney, though, Barber laughed. "That's a good question. I will work with every fiber of my being to see that Barack Obama is not re-elected, and to the extent there is a collateral benefit to Mitt Romney, so be it."

Barber was one of more than a dozen people interviewed by The Huffington Post who expressed resignation that Romney is the likely GOP nominee.

"I would have preferred someone else," said John Porta, 55, a realtor from Titusville, Fla., "but I'm going to back him 120 percent."

Porta said his first choice was Michele Bachmann. Many mentioned Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich.

Ken Brooks, 72, a biker and prison minister from Vero Beach, Fla., whose black leather vest sports a "Preacher" patch, said he still pines for Herman Cain but will vote for Romney. So will his similarly clad wife, Pam, 64, who said with a sigh, "I think he's too liberal, too wishy washy, but we don't want Obama."

Asked what he thought about Romney being a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Ken Brooks said he teaches that Mormonism isn't Christianity. "He don't believe in the same Jesus that we do," Brooks said. "But he's better than voting for a Muslim."

Although Obama has talked about how his Christian values have informed his policies, many here said they don't buy it. A woman at a session on radical Islam asked if Obama was a Muslim. The panelists, Frank Gaffney, a neoconservative hawking his book, "Shariah: The Threat to America," and Kamal Saleem, a self-described "ex-terrorist" who has claimed that he planted bombs in Israel and that he has met Yasser Arafat, Muammar Gaddafi and Saddam Hussein, did not deny it.

But if many here are suspicious of the incumbent president's religion, they also aren't entirely comfortable with that of the man they say they'll vote for this November.

"I'm setting that aside," Joe Schweigart, 75, of Lake Worth, Fla., said of Romney's religion. It's more important, he said, to elect a good businessman "who has his head screwed on correctly" when it comes to the economy.

Art Ward, 73, of Orlando, Fla., said he is "okay" with Romney even though he would have preferred several of Romney's more conservative rivals. He said that Mormons "have some curious beliefs," but that he considers them Christians.

But his wife, Linda, 68, slowly shook her head as he spoke. "I worry. I don't think they are on the right road," she said of Mormons. When asked if they are Christians, she paused. "I'm not sure of that," she said. She also said she is unsure whether she will vote for Romney.

Romney said this week that he would speak at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., on May 12, a sign that he is not taking the conservative Republican base for granted. Liberty, the country's largest Christian university, is affiliated with the Liberty Counsel and was the site of the first two Awakenings.

Barber, the Liberty Counsel's vice president, said he doubts Romney's Mormon religion will be an issue in the election, at least not on the right, where Barber said there are bigger concerns than theological differences.

Indeed, when it comes to religion, more people at the conference had faith in Romney than the president.

"Romney is our only choice, said Sidney Lanier, 76, a retiree from West Palm Beach who wore a bright red sport jacket with a cross lapel pin. "We're not voting for him. We're voting against Obama."