Sweet: Romney seeks to clear air on Mormonism, Bain
BY LYNN SWEET Twitter: @lynnsweet August 30, 2012 10:58PM
Grant Bennett addresses the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Updated: October 1, 2012 6:08PM
TAMPA — Mitt Romney used the final night of his convention to tackle — even highlight — two political challenges to his presidential quest: his tenure at Bain Capital and his Mormon faith.
I think Romney’s convention made progress in shining an informed light on a religion a lot of people don’t know a lot about.
But on that second matter — Bain — a centerpiece of Romney’s argument on why he is “uniquely qualified” to be president — Romney’s team played more defense than offense — and if they thought they built a wall to shield him from Democratic attacks — well, it wasn’t very high.
Romney’s team always intended for the Thursday session — capped by Romney’s speech accepting the Republican presidential nomination — to tell Romney’s personal story, by the people who know him the best.
The were brought to the stage at the Tampa Bay Times Forum to talk about — not run from — Romney’s Mormonism — and his work at Bain, the subject of millions of dollars of attack ads by the Obama campaign and allies.
Romney almost never uses the word Mormon when talking on the campaign trail about being a pastor of a congregation in a Boston suburb. When Ann Romney on Tuesday reminisced about her first dates with Romney as a teen, she used language that for her was rare. Before she converted, “I was Episcopalian. He was a Mormon,” she said.
Romney is the first Mormon to be a presidential nominee, a historical milestone that has triggered documentaries and articles about an American-founded religion, of which many details are not well-known.
If you did not know — or if you weren’t sure what it means to lead a Mormon flock — Grant Bennett, who followed Romney as pastor of that Massachusetts congregation, was booked as a convention speaker to explain — and in a sense, demystify and normalize.
“I have spent thousands of hours over many years with Mitt Romney,” Bennett said. “We spent our time together serving our fellow men and women — we spent it serving in our church.
“We embraced Christ’s admonition: ‘Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.’
“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints of which we are members has an unpaid, lay cergy. While raising his family and pursuing his career, Mitt Romney served in our church, devoting 10, 15, even 20 hours a week doing so. Like all Mormon leaders, he did so on his own time and at his own expense.”
Bennett’s short course was followed by two couples — the Oparowskys and the Finalysons — whom Romney, in his role as pastor, counseled and helped when they were in need.
After that came the Bain speakers, who had a big assignment: try to inoculate Romney from the waves of Democrat attacks on his business record — that are only going to get stronger and more frequent as the presidential campaign moves to an even more intense post-convention phase — with job creation one of the most important issues.
Romney founded Bain Capital in 1984, and in 1986 his firm made its first major investment — in Staples — which grew from a single store in Boston to a major national chain.
The success of Staples is a standard part of Romney’s stump speech, and on Thursday night, Staples founder Tom Stemberg was on the stage to praise Romney helping launch his business — now grown to 2,000 stores.
Maybe he should have stopped there, on the upbeat.
“But I ask you. Who would make a better president: Someone who knows how to save a dollar on pens and paper or someone who knows how to waste $535 million on Solyndra,” Stembler said, a reference to the failed California solar energy firm — which got an Obama administration loan.
He went on to hit “this White House and their campaign demonizing Mitt Romney. Demonizing Bain Capital. Demonizing the private equity industry that created so many new jobs.”
Well, Bain worked for Stemberg. But for others, Bain was a nightmare — and it’s those people — who lost jobs when Bain came in — for a variety of reasons — whom the Democrats are highlighting.
Ari Fleisher, former White House press secretary for President George W. Bush, said the Bain pushback at the convention was long overdue. “I’m glad they are doing this; I wish they had done it earlier,” he told me.
Democratic National Committee Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) said Romney’s role was to make money for his investors “and he did it in any way possible” with job creation not a priority.
No matter what was said Thursday night, Bain as a potent campaign issue is not going away.