TAMPA, Florida – At least one Republican National Convention participant waited
until Tuesday to arrive in the Sunshine State – Mitt Romney, who was expected to
make an unscheduled appearance Tuesday night to coincide with a speech by his
As storms battered the coast of Florida and surrounding
states, forcing the cancellation of the convention’s opening night on Monday,
Romney touched down two days ahead of schedule to add an early bright note to a
Republican gathering that will culminate in his acceptance of the party’s
presidential nomination on Thursday night.
Campaign officials hadn’t
confirmed his appearance Tuesday night by press time.
Ann Romney is
expected to try to put a more human face on her husband by focusing on the
successes in his biography as a leader of business and father to five sons.
Rising Republican star Chris Christie, governor of New Jersey, and Rick
Santorum, who had been Romney’s top challenger for the nomination during the
primaries, were also slated to speak in a schedule that was scrambled to
accommodate some of Monday’s canceled appearances.
Ahead of the main
event Tuesday night, groups including the American Jewish Committee and American
Israel Public Affairs Committee held sessions emphasizing issues of key concern
for Jewish and pro-Israel voters.
The AJC turned the spotlight on
relations between Mormons and Jews. Romney’s Mormon faith has been a recurrent
topic throughout the campaign. He will be the first Mormon presidential nominee
of a major party, a milestone in American history though not one his campaign
has sought to emphasize.
Romney has deflected attention from his faith,
which has been an obstacle for some Evangelical Christian voters.
chose to support Santorum, a Catholic, in the GOP primary contest.
was some blowback in the primaries,” Abraham Peck, director of Catholic-Jewish
studies at St. Leo University, said of the attitude toward a Mormon candidate
among certain Evangelicals.
But Peck, speaking at the AJC event, said the
communities were now working together on “specific issue coalitions” around
points of mutual concern.
AJC legislative director Richard Foltin, who
moderated Tuesday’s event, suggested that there were also areas of consonance
between Mormons and Jews.
He pointed to issues of church and state, immigration reform and assistance to
those in need.
Yet for all the points of agreement, the relationship
between the two faith communities has been hurt by divisive issues, most
significantly the practice of some Mormons who have conducted posthumous
baptisms of Jews, including Holocaust victims.
“I agree that it is an
offensive thing,” said Gregory Smith, a Mormon who works in AIPAC’s Washington
office and also spoke at the AJC event.
But he noted, as did Peck, that
it goes against the instructions of the church leadership, which has publicly
renounced the practice even as some individual members of the faith continue to
conduct such baptisms furtively.
“The church goes to great lengths to
stop it and make sure it isn’t done,” Smith said.
He declined to weigh in
on the call from Elie Wiesel, a Nobel Peace Prize-winning Holocaust survivor,
for Romney to publicly speak on the issue.
Smith emphasized similarities
between the Jewish and Mormon communities, including their roughly equal
population size in the US as well as globally, and the struggles the two
minority faiths have faced in the form of ostracism and even violence at the
hands of those who haven’t accepted them.
Smith suggested that there was
a great opportunity for the two communities to work with each other and learn
from one another, and he compared the achievement of Romney’s expected GOP
nomination with that of Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman, an Orthodox Jew who
was chosen in 2000 as the running mate for Democratic presidential nominee Al
“I think you see that same exact feeling within the Mormon
community,” Smith explained. “We’re very proud that there’s a Mormon on
He added that the implications were broader than mere Mormon
participation in the political system.
“It almost makes you feel normal,
because people have made you feel not normal for such a long time,” he said. “It
makes me feel that the American electorate at large is more accepting of my