ASHEVILLE, N.C. -- Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney met with Rev. Billy Graham Thursday, making an unscheduled stop at the 93-year-old evangelist's secluded home in Black Mountain, N.C., during a campaign swing through the state.
In what was Romney's first meeting with Graham, the ailing reverend told the GOP nominee that he had considered his father, George Romney, to be a friend. Also in attendance was Graham's son, Franklin, whom Romney met in 2006.
The half-hour discussion was closed to reporters traveling with Romney, but campaign aides later provided a list of topics discussed, including "religious freedom, religious persecution and growth of their ministry in China, Sudan and North Korea." Additionally, photographers and television producers were escorted into the residence to capture the final moments of the meeting.
According to a transcript provided by NBC News, Romney was discussing his father's death when the photo op began.
"He was on the treadmill one morning at age 88 and he's jogging on the treadmill and his irregular heartbeat caused him to faint and there was no one there to revive him and so he passed away," Romney said.
"My mom lived for another year after that, and then she followed him," he continued. "She had a stroke. And she followed him. But dad was active and working on volunteerism to the very end of his life. Every day. Trying to encourage more people to get involved with volunteering here in this country and around the world. He was tireless on the volunteer effort."
Evangelical voters have been reticent to fully embrace Romney since the start of his candidacy, in part due to his Mormon faith and in part due to his softer stance on social issues, such as abortion. But on Thursday, the former Massachusetts governor made an appeal to Graham to lend him his prayers.
"Prayer is the most helpful thing you can do for me," Romney told Graham. "And what you're planning, what your son has shown me is going to be very very helpful. And I appreciate that. Its going to be terrific."
Although the Romney campaign stopped short of calling it an endorsement, Graham made it clear at the meeting's conclusion that Romney had his support.
After leading a prayer for the Republican nominee, Graham told Romney, "I'll do all I can to help you. And you can quote me on that."
UPDATE: 6:50 p.m. -- Graham issued the following statement after his meeting with Romney:
It was an honor to meet and host Governor Romney in my home today, especially since I knew his late father former Michigan Governor George Romney, whom I considered a friend. I have followed Mitt Romney's career in business, the Olympic Games, as governor of Massachusetts and, of course, as a candidate for president of the United States.
What impresses me even more than Governor Romney's successful career are his values and strong moral convictions. I appreciate his faithful commitment to his impressive family, particularly his wife Ann of 43 years and his five married sons.
It was a privilege to pray with Governor Romney--for his family and our country. I will turn 94 the day after the upcoming election, and I believe America is at a crossroads. I hope millions of Americans will join me in praying for our nation and to vote for candidates who will support the biblical definition of marriage, protect the sanctity of life and defend our religious freedoms.
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