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'Evangelicals For Mitt' Tells Peers: Yes You Can Vote For Mitt, Really.

BY Sarah Lai Stirland | Tuesday, March 6 2012

Back in October, the Reverend Robert Jeffress of the 10,000-member First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas, caused a media furor when he characterized Mormonism as a theological cult at the Values Voters Summit.

Jeffress, who had endorsed Texas Governor Rick Perry, later re-iterated his belief on national television, but admitted that he would ultimately vote for former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney if forced to rather than re-elect President Obama.

Jeffress' comments reflect a real division within the wider evangelical Christian community over the quandary of whether its members should vote for a political candidate who is a Mormon -- which is what makes the site "Evangelicals for Mitt" interesting, and for some, provocative.

"There's a non-trivial number of evangelicals who believe that if we have a Mormon president, that will 'legitimize' Mormonism, and make it more acceptable in their minds, and therefore more and more people will become Mormon, and if you believe that Mormonism isn't Christianity, then more and more people are going to go to hell," explained Charles Mitchell, a onetime conservative activist who is one of the blog's authors. "Sometimes, some people will tell us pretty directly that 'You are sending people to hell.'"

Nevertheless, Christian Broadcasting Network Chairman and Christian Coalition Founder Pat Robertson praised Romney as an "outstanding Christian" last October. (He stopped short of officially endorsing him.)

That's what the original three founders of Evangelicals for Mitt believe as well. They are long-time Romney supporters, and the web site is an outgrowth of three of the bloggers' off-line, in-real-world activism when they were organizing to help Romney win a straw poll at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference back in 2006. To many people's surprise, Romney ended up second in the contest after former Tennessee Senator Bill Frist, beating former Virginia Governor George Allen. The trio of organizers, David and Nancy French, and young conservative activist Mitchell, had created a community, and a large e-mail list that they then focused on a web site.

According to Alexa.com, the site's traffic is fairly minimal, but both David and Nancy (who did not respond to an interview request) appear to be fairly influential in their own communities, and they've carried on their activism on behalf of Romney, to some criticism. David is an attorney at the conservative-leaning religious liberties groupAmerican Center for Law and Justice and Nancy is an author who has worked with Bristol Palin on her Memoir, "Not Afraid of Life." Nancy was also a consultant for the Romney campaign for a few months in 2007 and worked with Ann Romney on a book project. They are based in Columbia, Tennessee.

Both also advocate for Romney in columns on more well-trafficked web sites such as CNN, USA Today and National Review, for example. They've also gone as far as publishing an ebook to explain why Evangelicals can vote for Romney. Their argument is fairly simple: Romney shares the same values, if not theology, as evangelicals, and even though he did usher in "Romneycare" in Massachusetts, his policies are a compromise and better than having to live with Obama's policies.

It's not clear how effective the Frenchs' prolific advocacy is having on the conservative portion of the evangelical community, but the web site does seem to serve a purpose online:
The site is the second result in Google for the popular search "Can I vote for a Mormon." (The first is a Ken Starr column in the Washington Post advising Republican primary voters to keep an open mind, and to be cognizant of the country's constitution as they went to vote in the New Hampshire primary this January.) In addition, the site also serves as a repository of links to the French's online advocacy efforts, and acts in its own way like a small-scale mirror effort of the Obama campaign's "Truth-Squad" initiative to have supporters rebut online attacks against the candidate. David French vigorously defends Romney online on crucial primary election-day issues as abortion and gay marriage in online communities that care passionately about these issues.

Google came out with an infographic today about the top searches being conducted online in the 10 states that are holding Republican primaries and caucuses. Other than searches on the economy, abortion and gay marriage were two of the issues that were most searched for in many of these battleground states, including Ohio.