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Romney Campaign Turns To Evangelicals In Va.

BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: This is Brian Naylor at Grace Church of Fredericksburg, Virginia, where the sermon Sunday focused on biblical values.


NAYLOR: This evangelical Christian church counts around a thousand members. About a quarter were in attendance to hear Senior Pastor Ernest Custalow.

ERNEST CUSTALOW: When we vote on biblical values, we are to hear the heart of God, and as citizens of the kingdom, vote accordingly. So, we look at the parties and say which party most closely aligns to the values? And especially the ones at the top are, in a sense, more non-negotiable than the ones at the bottom.

NAYLOR: The Romney campaign does not have a coordinated get-out-the-vote effort targeted at evangelicals, but at this church at least, it's pretty clear they'll be supporting him come Election Day. At the top of Pastor Custalow's list of biblical values is marriage between a man and a woman. It's an issue that's important to many of the parishioners here. For Katie Mahoney, who describes herself as independent, the key issue is abortion. She says she's voting against President Obama, whom she calls an abortion promoter.

KATIE MAHONEY: I would say this is the most important election, not only in my lifetime, but probably in almost 100 years or so. You know, I see abortion as an issue was important as slavery. And so it's time to take a stand.

NAYLOR: Mahoney says she's not heard directly from the Romney campaign, nor, says Pastor Custalow, has he.

CUSTALOW: Well, first of all, the Romney campaign has not reached out to us or as a church at all.

NAYLOR: Still, a recent Pew poll found 74 percent of white evangelicals support Romney. That's a bit higher than support for John McCain four years ago. And two steps Romney has taken helped solidify that support. In May, he spoke at the commencement of Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, the school founded by the late Reverend Jerry Falwell. More than 30,000 were in attendance. Earlier this month, Romney met with the Reverend Billy Graham, who a few days later took out full page ads in a number of newspapers, pledging his support for candidates who espouse biblical values. Ernest Custalow.

CUSTALOW: Those two things in the evangelical world have sort of sent a signal to evangelicals that it's OK.

NAYLOR: Evangelicals have not always been OK with Romney. As Massachusetts governor, Romney was pro-choice on abortion, though he now says he opposes it, except in cases of rape and incest and when the life of the woman is endangered. And there's Romney's Mormon faith. Mark DeMoss is the Romney campaign's outreach coordinator to evangelical Christians.

MARK DEMOSS: I think the longer the campaign has gone on, the more comfortable evangelicals - many, I would say most evangelicals. There are certainly some exceptions. The more comfortable most evangelicals have become with the idea that Mitt Romney's values closely reflect their own, even though his theology does not.

NAYLOR: DeMoss says there is a lot of organized get-out-the-vote activity in evangelical circles, but it's taking place independently of the Romney campaign. He cites Ralph Reed, whose Faith and Freedom Coalition is contacting millions of religious conservatives by mail and telephone. And at a table in the foyer of Fredericksburg's Grace Church is a 2012 Virginia voter guide distributed by Focus on the Family and The Family Research Council. It does not explicitly say who to vote for, but it makes clear on a range of issues important to religious conservatives - from taxpayer funding of abortion to religious liberty - who is on their side and who isn't. Brian Naylor, NPR News.



This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR News' Brian Naylor is a correspondent on the Washington Desk. In this role, he covers politics and federal agencies.

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