Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who was labeled a cult member Friday, said religious differences shouldn't divide Republicans and urged civility in the party's 2012 presidential nomination process.
"Poisonous language does not advance our cause," the former Massachusetts governor and current front-runner in polls said Saturday at the Values Voter Summit in Washington. The conference is held by evangelical Christians, an important voting bloc in the Republican nominating contests. "Decency and civility is a value, too," he said.
This year, pocketbook issues seem to matter more than pulpit preaching among cultural conservatives at the summit, and at least some are willing to embrace Romney, who many have long looked at skeptically for his reversals on some of their priorities and his Mormon faith.
"No one's perfect," says Larry Smith of Newport Beach, Calif., one of thousands of conservatives at the weekend gathering to hear from the slate of GOP candidates. Smith cast the choice before him as a compromise, and says he's leaning toward Romney, who he said posts a strong record as a businessman.
"He has the skills to help us on this particular issue [the economy], at this particular time," Smith said.
Romney's religion and his record favoring same-sex marriage and abortion rights while governor -- both of which he now opposes -- became the focus of the debate at the summit Saturday.
In a straw poll held Saturday at the summit, Rep. Ron Paul of Texas won with 37 percent of the votes cast, according to Paul's campaign. Businessman Herman Cain received 23 percent, followed by former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania with 16 percent, Perry and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann each with 8 percent and Romney with 4 percent.