POLITICS

Team Santorum: U.S. is with Rick on devil belief

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Politics,Beltway Confidential,Byron York

MESA, Ariz. -- Some of Rick Santorum's advisers are frustrated and angry that reporters are focusing more on their candidate's statements about Satan than on his positions on the issues.  Here in Arizona Tuesday, Santorum faced repeated questioning about portions of a 2008 speech at a Catholic university in Florida in which he said, "Satan is attacking the great institutions of America."

"I don't know what's newsmaking that Rick Santorum believes in right and wrong, good and evil, God and the devil," says one campaign aide.  "I really don't know how that's out of the mainstream."

It's not. In 2007, the Gallup polling organization asked Americans whether they believe in God, in heaven, in hell, and in the devil.  The results: 86 percent of those questioned said they believed in God, 81 percent in heaven, 70 percent in the devil, and 69 percent in hell.

Just 21 percent of those questioned said they do not believe in the devil, giving Satan a healthy 70-21 believe/disbelieve ratio.  (Eight percent said they weren't sure.)

Santorum's aides believe it is unfair that reporters are asking questions about aspects of Santorum's faith and not asking similar questions about Mitt Romney's.  Of course, Santorum has spoken more publicly about the details of his religious beliefs than Romney has, and that is why some of the questions are popping up now.  On the other hand, some in the Santorum camp are pointing to a 2007 interview Romney did with Iowa radio talk show host Jan Mickelson in which Mickelson essentially goaded Romney into discussing, off-air but on-camera, a few details of Mormon beliefs.  ("The Church says that Christ appears and splits the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem," Romney told Mickelson.  "That’s what the Church says. And then, over a thousand years of the millennium, that the world is reigned in two places, Jerusalem and Missouri. . . . The law will come from Missouri, and the other will be from Jerusalem.")

But specifically religious questioning of Romney is as rare as specific Romney statements about Mormon beliefs.  Given the current grilling of Santorum, that is a source of growing frustration to Santorum's advisers.  "Why is Mormonism off limits?" asks one.  "I'm not saying it's a seminal issue in the campaign, but we're having to spend days answering questions about Rick's faith, which he has been open about.  Romney will turn on a dime when you talk about religion.  We're getting asked about specific tenets of Rick's faith, and when Romney says, 'I want to focus on the economy,' they say, OK, we'll focus on the economy."

UPDATE: After this was posted, the Santorum adviser called back to stress that his "off limits" point was not specifically about Mormonism but rather that Santorum alone is being questioned about religion.  He asked why Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul, in addition to Romney, have not faced the level of questioning abour religion that Santorum has.  In our original conversation, the adviser said, "If you're going to ask us, you need to ask everybody."

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