Has James Dobson Created an Opening for Mitt Romney?

Deal W. Hudson
October 8, 2007

Mitt Romney is seizing the opportunity created by Dr. James Dobson’s threat of a third party candidacy. The Massachusetts poll is positioning himself as the GOP candidate of choice for religious conservatives.

How? In a Boston Globe story from October 5, Eric Fehrnstrom, a spokesman for the Romney campaign, said, “Dr. Dobson is keeping an open mind on Mitt Romney, and I think this is because they do share in common so many values.”

In short, Romney wants to portray himself as the only major candidate with Dobson’s approval still in the running.

Dr. Dobson didn’t take the bait. The Boston Globe reporter, Michael Kranish, called Dobson to get a comment on the campaign statement, but he did not return the call.

No one can blame Romney for trying to fill in the vacuum created by Dobson’s negative comments on nearly all the GOP candidates. After all, Dobson has said nothing critical about Romney himself, only that Evangelicals would not be likely to vote for a Mormon.

“I don’t believe that conservative Christians in large numbers will vote for a Mormon, but that remains to be seen, I guess,” Dobson said on a national radio show October 2, 2006.

The signs are not good that Dobson will back Romney. Dobson’s attempt in Salt Lake City to rally other religious leaders to a third party cause came the day after Romney spoke to the same group.

If Dobson had been favorably impressed, he would not have carried through with his plan to lead his colleagues out of the GOP for the 2008 election.

By addressing Dobson publicly, the Romney campaign is taking a huge risk. Fehrnstrom argued that Dobson and Romney “may not agree on theology, but they share in common values like protecting the sanctity of life.”

This is a problematic issue for the Romney campaign to raise with pro-lifers like Dobson and other members of the Council on National Policy. Not only is Romney’s pro-life commitment of a recent vintage, it remains inconsistent on the very important issue of embryonic stem cell research.

Romney still supports research on “unwanted” or “discarded” frozen embryos from fertility clinics. He does draw the line at creating human clones for stem cell research.

As Rev. Tadeusz Pacholczyk, an ethicist with the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia has stated, “Any position that throws open the door to using the frozen embryos is going to be a position that Catholics and many other Christians will not be able to stand behind in any way.”

Romney and his campaign understand the apparent inconsistency in his position. Rev. Pacholczyk himself, and a number of other well-known Catholic pro-lifers have already discussed this issue with the Romney campaign.

It isn’t very likely that Dr. Dobson will take a pragmatic view of Romney’s position for the simple reason that the bulk of embryonic stem cell research derives its material from frozen embryos.

Thus, to be for embryonic stem cell research on frozen embryos and against it on human clones is effectively to be for embryonic stem cell research, because that’s how it’s presently being done.

In spite of the risk, the Romney campaign has asked Dr. Dobson to take another look at their candidate before pursuing the third party strategy.

This is a potent issue for religious conservatives. You may recall that Sen. Bill Frist (R-TN) was considered the leading GOP presidential contender until he went on the Senate floor on July 29, 2005, to challenge President Bush’s restriction on federal funding for stem cell research.

Within forty-eight hours, Sen. Frist’s chances of a successful run for the nomination had evaporated. Religious conservatives felt betrayed and said so.

Mitt Romney has invited closer scrutiny from Dr. Dobson – whether Dobson will take the opportunity to criticize Romney on embryonic stem cells – as he has Fred Thompson for not supporting a federal marriage amendment – remains to be seen.

It’s a bold move from a candidate whose outreach to religious conservatives has been methodical and determined from the very beginning.

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