Robert Novak

Despite his response to the retired CEOs, Romney is no longer in denial. A Newsweek poll shows 28 percent of Americans would not vote for any member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints -- demonstrating much greater hostility than to a Jewish or African-American candidate. Mormonism is the only minority category where bias in America has deepened.

This prejudice may explain why Romney trails competitors in national polls. But nobody has emerged as the Republican establishment choice. Rudy Giuliani offends social conservatives. John McCain seems a spent force. Fred Thompson has not yet fulfilled his promise. What's more, Romney leads in Iowa and New Hampshire, where victories would propel him ahead in national polls and likely nominate him. Will the Grand Old Party find itself with a nominee who cannot be elected because of his religion?

It is certain that sooner or later, Romney will address the nation. His task is vastly more complicated than John F. Kennedy's was on Sept. 12, 1960, when he told the Greater Houston Ministerial Council that as president he would not take orders from the pope. Romney will no more attempt explaining Mormon theology than Kennedy ventured into Roman Catholic doctrine. He will do what I wrote 17 months ago he must do: deplore a religious test as un-American.

Romney will have but one shot to get it right, with no chance for a mulligan. Some supporters think he should speak (as in the case of JFK) only if and when he is nominated. More likely, it will come earlier. One key adviser sees the optimum time after an early victory in Iowa when he becomes the front-runner. Whenever, it would be the single most important campaign speech for Mitt Romney -- or any candidate.

Robert Novak

Robert Novak (1931-2009) was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report.

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