In the strongest possible terms, Mitt Romney told me in an interview Friday that the push-polling attacks in Iowa on his Mormon faith are un-American.
"This is the week of Thanksgiving," an emotional Romney said. "This is a time when we are going to be sitting down with our families and celebrating the founding of a country which was established in part recognizing our tolerance for religions. People came here to seek religious freedom. And on this week of all weeks for a campaign, or supporters of a campaign, to be launching attacks on another candidate because of his religion -- it's as un-American as I can imagine. And I think it's very, very disappointing."
I asked Romney what he thought of a push-poll that emphasizes the positives of his Republican presidential rival, John McCain. I also asked him what he thought of Sen. McCain's 95-year-old mother blaming Mormons for the problems surrounding the Salt Lake City Olympics in 2002. Is there a pattern? Is this a McCain-organized assault?
Romney said he didn't think he knew the true origin of these attacks. But he went on to thoroughly trash McCain as the author of the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance bill, which opened the door to these push-poll assaults. "He's the Dr. Frankenstein for a bill I consider a monster." Essentially, Romney asserted that the creation of the 527 organizations in the wake of this bill allowed people to contribute massive amounts of money to candidates without disclosure.
But does Romney or his staffers have any evidence that McCain himself is behind these push-polls? The answer was no. Nor does Romney have any confirmation of just who is organizing the various mail and e-mail campaigns that are attacking him and his faith.
Is Romney ready to give a speech on his religious beliefs, such as John F. Kennedy did back in 1960? Again Romney's answer was no, not at this point. Although he added, "We'll see what happens down the road."
One would think the religion issue is holding back the Romney campaign, but the candidate disagreed. He pointed out that in the states where he's spending much of his time, like Iowa, New Hampshire, Michigan, South Carolina, Wyoming, Nevada and Florida, he's doing real well.
"I'm either in first place or tied for first place in six of those seven," he said. "In Florida, I'm in second place. So there's no real indication that people are going to choose the nominee of their party based on which church he goes to."
There's a certain high drama to all this. The faith-bashing story was broken by Jonathan Martin of Politico.com earlier in the week. Undoubtedly, there's going to be a large-scale effort by reporters to find out just who sponsored and authored the anti-Mormon push-polling in Iowa. There are rumors going around, but I'm not going to speculate. And neither is Romney. His is an issue-oriented campaign, and he's very content to stick to the issues.
For instance, on the economy, Romney said he didn't foresee a recession. But he did point out that all the Democratic candidates at Thursday night's debate talked about raising taxes. This would be the worst thing to do right now, Romney said. Instead, he is strongly in favor of cutting the corporate tax, and he expressed disbelief that Washington has so far failed to patch the alternative minimum tax, which could affect 20 million Americans.
Romney was particularly harsh in criticizing Hillary Clinton on her general proposition that the Bush tax cuts have helped the rich but harmed the middle class. He noted that these tax cuts, which included a child tax credit, were across-the-board -- to the benefit of all income-tax payers.
This was vintage, well-versed Romney. He also called for long-run solutions to solve the $100-a-barrell oil problem, although he doesn't believe the CAFE fuel-standards system, which would place a huge burden on domestic car makers, should be singled out as a one-shot solution (as proposed in a California court decision).
Romney was fluent in all areas of public policy, and we could have talked all night. Still, there's no question that the attacks on his religion stuck in his craw.
Who can blame him? Mitt Romney stands up for what he believes in, and in our time together he proved yet again that he has the right stuff.