DES MOINES - Republican Newt Gingrich's new political director in Iowa reportedly raised the issue of rival Mitt Romney's Mormon religion in a negative turn to the 2012 presidential campaign.

Craig Bergman's comments were made last Wednesday and reported on Tuesday by The Iowa Republican, a website that promotes Republican causes in the state.

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Bergman told a vote focus group sponsored by The Iowa Republican and McClatchy newspapers that Romney's religion could hurt him with Iowa's influential evangelical conservatives.

Iowa on Jan. 3 holds caucuses that mark the first US nominating contest in the battle to determine which Republican will face President Barack Obama in the November 2012 election.

"A lot of the evangelicals believe God would give us four more years of Obama just for the opportunity to expose the cult of Mormon," Bergman said during the focus group, according to The Iowa Republican. "There's a thousand pastors ready to do that."

The Des Moines Register said Bergman might not have been Gingrich's political director at the time he made the remark since he reportedly had joined the Gingrich campaign last Thursday.

The comment surfaced on a day Gingrich vowed to keep the campaign as positive as possible.

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