Sen. Hatch Defends Romney Reaching Out to LDS Church

Sen. Hatch Defends Romney Reaching Out to LDS Church

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John Daley ReportingSen. Orrin Hatch, (R) Utah: "I think it's pure bunk. There is a lot prejudice against Mormons out there and they'll use anything they can to hurt him."

Senator Orrin Hatch reacts to reports that Governor Mitt Romney quietly consulted with leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to help raise funds for a likely presidential campaign. The Senator's sharp words come as both the Romney camp and the LDS Church insist there was no direct church involvement in discussions about providing Romney fundraising help for a 2008 presidential bid.

Senator Orrin Hatch today defended the concept of Mitt Romney's supporters trying to reach out to fellow Mormons, but he says the news reporting on the story reflected a "prejudice" against Mormons.

As Mitt Romney looks to a presidential run, it's a tricky dance he's doing with the LDS Church, where he naturally would rely on fellow members for support; but it can't be too close lest it risk his chances or the church's tax-exempt status.

Last week the Boston Globe reported that Romney political operatives, including local business leader Kem Gardner, consulted with Church leaders about building a nationwide network of supporters through BYU business school alumni.

The Globe has printed e-mails and accounts of a specific meeting supporting its story, but Senator Orrin Hatch today sharply criticized the paper.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, (R) Utah: "I'm not calling the Boston Globe prejudiced against Mormons, but they are prejudiced against conservatives. There's no question it's one of the more liberal newspapers in the country. They always treated me fairly, but it's not secret they're roughing up Governor Romney because they don't agree with him. Those who are afraid of him are trying to take him down."

Hatch says when he ran for president in 2000, polls found 18% of Americans would flat not vote for a Mormon.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, (R) Utah: "This business of prejudice against Mormons is real."

Pollster Dan Jones says Romney needs that number much lower by 2008 to win.

Dan Jones/ Pollster: "It's got to be down to three or four percent."

In a statement the Church reiterated its "neutrality in party politics. These latest developments confirm that Church leaders were not involved in candidate fundraising."

A spokesman also stated "unequivocally that" a top church leader mentioned in the Boston Globe story "has never discussed with the First Presidency the matters asserted in the email" that the Globe referenced.

Meantime, Hatch says a Romney run will be no different than one by another Boston favorite son.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, (R) Utah: "I'm sure John F. Kennedy didn't go to the pope of Rome and ask him if he could run, and I'm sure Mitt Romney has not gone to president of the LDS Church and say he is going to run."

The Romney campaign's PAC also sent us a statement via email today, referring to Don Stirling, a central figure in the fundraising plan. It says Stirling "got over enthusiastic and overstepped his bounds. The Commonwealth PAC has taken appropriate action to make sure it doesn't happen again," and it "recognizes the political neutrality of the Mormon Church."

Meantime, Jones says it's better for Romney to have this story break in October of '06 rather than '08.

Dan Jones/ Pollster: "I believe it's good that story comes out now. In this business that's called innoculation."

Kem Gardner did not return our call today. An editor for the Boston Globe told us today: "We stand by our story."

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