This is what happens when your endorsement does not go as planned. You are risking more than your 501(c)3 status! The Romney candidacy is going to be very interesting to watch. Should his faith tradition matter? Nope. But there it is. We may not like it, but many people vote with their ecclesial allegiance first. I wonder how a conservative Republican Catholic candidate would do? Would we get to see the old Protestant frustrations emerge?
Prominent S.C. pastor endorses
Mitt Romney, then regrets it
By Greg Warner (Associated Baptist Press)
SPARTANBURG, S.C. (ABP) -- Don Wilton, a prominent megachurch pastor in the key early-primary state of South Carolina, withdrew his endorsement of Mormon presidential candidate Mitt Romney Oct. 23.
Wilton, pastor of First Baptist Church in Spartanburg and former president of the South Carolina Baptist Convention, said Oct. 19 he was "proud to stand alongside Gov. Romney as he pursues our nation's highest office," according to a press release from Romney's campaign. The announcement received wide local and national media coverage, including stories on CNN. Four days later, Wilton released his own statement saying his endorsement, which he authorized the Romney campaign to announce, was a "personal error."
Southern Baptists and other evangelicals are divided over support for Romney because of his faith. Many consider Mormonism to be a cult or non-orthodox sect of Christianity. Others say Romney's conservative social opinions should override his particular faith.
The Romney campaign, in a press release, said it agreed to withdraw all references to Wilton's endorsement.
Wilton said he made his endorsement as an "individual citizen." Internal Revenue Service rules prevent churches and other tax-exempt organizations from endorsing candidates, but church employees can make individual endorsements.
â€œWhile I did give my consent to the local campaign to use my affirmation of the governorâ€™s stance on family values in my capacity as an individual citizen," Wilton said, "I made the mistake of not realizing the extent to which it would be used on a national basis. It was my personal error to agree to support Romneyâ€™s campaign.
"Until this incident I had never endorsed any person running for any elected office, Democrat or Republican," he added. "While I have had the privilege of meeting with a number of fine candidates over the years, I continue to believe my role and responsibility is to preach and teach the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ."
Recent polls of Republican voters in South Carolina show Romney gaining ground against frontrunners Fred Thompson and Rudy Giuliani -- even moving into second place behind Thompson, according to a poll commissioned by the Romney campaign. Romney is currently the only candidate gaining ground on the field.
An endorsement Oct. 16 by officials of the fundamentalist Bob Jones University in Greenville is expected to aid Romney's effort to lure evangelicals and conservatives. But an independent survey after the endorsement found that while 27 percent of S.C. Republicans said the endorsement made it more likely they would vote for Romney, 32 percent said it made them less likely. The same poll found 45 percent of Republican voters said they are less likely to vote for Romney because of his Mormon faith.
The South Carolina primary is scheduled for Jan. 19.