WASHINGTON — The Iowa political director for former House Speaker Newt Gingrich's presidential campaign resigned Tuesday for suggesting that evangelicals stood ready to help God "expose the cult of Mormon."
Craig Bergman had been with Gingrich's campaign for only a week and now he's out of a job for speaking disparagingly about former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's Mormon faith.
Bergman, a tea party supporter, made the remarks before he joined Gingrich's campaign. He made them during a focus group last Wednesday hosted by McClatchy Newspapers and TheIowaRepublican.com, a political Web site, at the Machine Shed restaurant in Urbandale, Iowa.
"There is a national pastor who is very much on the anti-Mitt Romney bandwagon," Bergman said in the focus group. "A lot of the evangelicals believe God would give us four more year of (President Barack) Obama just for the opportunity to expose the cult of Mormon ...There's a thousand pastors ready to do that."
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Gingrich's campaign released a statement Tuesday night announcing that Bergman was no longer with the campaign.
"Craig Bergman agreed to step away from his role with Newt 2012 today," Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond said in an email statement. "He made a comment to a focus group prior to becoming an employee that is inconsistent with Newt 2012's pledge to run a positive and solutions orientated campaign."
Surveys have shown that Romney's religion could present a problem in winning support for the former governor.
A poll last month by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life found that white evangelical Protestants, a key bloc in the Republican electoral base, are more inclined than the general public to view Mormonism as a non-Christian faith.
"Republicans who say Mormonism in not a Christian religion are less likely to support Romney for the GOP nomination and offer a less favorable assessment of him general," the poll's executive summary said. "But they seem prepared to overwhelmingly back him in a run against Obama in the general election."
Last Sunday, Bishop T.D. Jakes, pastor of a 30,000-member, politically influential non-denominational mega-church in Dallas, chided Republicans who are leery of supporting Romney because of his faith yet have no problem supporting the thrice-married, twice-divorced Gingrich.
"The thing that's amazing to me about it is that people who question whether he
(Romney) is legitimately a Christian because he is a Mormon don't seem concerned about somebody running who is not a Christian at all," Jakes, pastor of The Potter's House said last Sunday on TV One's Washington Watch with Roland Martin. "So the rationale says, 'We are more comfortable with having a sinner in a position of leadership than we are a Mormon ... that's really concerning me."
Gingrich recently converted to Catholicism and has acknowledged his marital transgressions. He also has said it's up to the voters to decide whether he is worthy of the Republican presidential nomination.
"I've made mistakes at times," Gingrich said during last Saturday's GOP presidential debate. "I've had to go to God for forgiveness."