By Sam Youngman
WOLFEBORO, New Hampshire (Reuters) - Mormon churchgoers on Sunday thanked Mitt Romney for raising the church's profile in his race for the White House and praised the Republican candidate's acceptance speech at a nominating convention in Tampa, Florida last week.
Romney, who would be the first Mormon president if he wins the November 6 election, sat smiling with his wife, Ann, as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, spoke about their faith and lauded the former Massachusetts governor's performance at the Republican National Convention (RNC).
Romney, who was a Mormon missionary in France and later became a local pastor in Massachusetts, lives nearby and worships in the church.
J.W. Marriott -- the son of the founder of the hotel chain and the current chairman of Marriott International Inc. -- spoke to the small congregation, noting that as Romney's profile has risen, the church has enjoyed increased and more positive media coverage.
"Today we see the church coming out of obscurity, and we see that 90 percent of what has been written and said, including an hour on NBC, an hour an half on CNN, two front-page articles in the Washington Post, many articles in the national news about the church, 90 percent of it has been favorable," Marriott said. "And that's a great tribute to Mitt and Ann and their family for living such an exemplary life," said Marriott.
Marriott joked that, "Now that we're out of obscurity, everybody is looking at us and saying, 'Are you as good as the Romneys?'"
Romney has begun to be more open in recent weeks about his faith, which is still regarded with some suspicion by many Americans, particularly the Evangelical Christians who are a key constituency in the Republican Party.
The church has an estimated 7 million members in the United States and it is based on the belief that the religion's founder, Joseph Smith, found golden tablets in 1827 in upstate New York left behind by ancient Israelites.
It has spent decades trying to counter criticism that it is a cult and a threat to Christianity.
"Never in my life did I think I would ever see as I'm watching the RNC, I would never see a Catholic get up and say that a Mormon is just as good as any Catholic," one of the churchgoers in Wolfeboro said in a reference to Romney's running mate, U.S. Representative Paul Ryan, who is a Roman Catholic.
(Editing by Alistair Bell and Paul Simao)