LYNCHBURG, Va. - Mitt Romney's Mormon faith has shaped his life, but he barely mentioned it as he spoke to graduates at an evangelical university Saturday.
And he hardly touched on hot-button social issues like abortion and gay marriage, instead offering a broad-based defense of values like family and hard work.
"Culture - what you believe, what you value, how you live - matters," Romney told Liberty University's graduates. "The American culture promotes personal responsibility, the dignity of work, the value of education, the merit of service, devotion to a purpose greater than self, and at the foundation, the preeminence of the family."
Instead of a red-meat conservative policy speech, Romney discussed his own family and offered a defense of Christianity, saying, "There is no greater force for good in the nation than Christian conscience in action." Still, he was inclusive: "Men and women of every faith, and good people with none at all, sincerely strive to do right and lead a purpose-driven life."
He had one sustained applause line in a 20-minute speech delivered days after President Obama embraced gay marriage. "Marriage is a relationship between one man and one woman," Romney said to a cheering crowd of students.
Obama honors police
Obama was not seeking to revisit the issue of gay marriage Saturday. In his weekly radio and Internet address, the president instead repeated his call for Congress to take up a "to-do list" of tax breaks, mortgage relief and other initiatives that he insists will create jobs and help middle-class families struggling in the sluggish economy.
Joined by Vice President Joe Biden, he appeared in the Rose Garden of the White House to praise the 34 winners of a national police association award who showed valor in tense standoffs, shootings and rescues.
"They are representative of the sacrifices and that quiet courage that exists among law enforcement officers all across the country and their families," Obama said.
Recipients included 15 members of the Detroit Police Department who confronted a gunman who opened fire in a precinct station, and five Las Vegas officers who stopped an assailant who shot an officer at a Walmart. Other award winners came from New York City; Los Angeles; Miami; Chicago; Woburn, Mass.; Paramus, N.J.; Copley, Ohio; and Chattanooga, Tenn.
Romney woos conservatives
The late Rev. Jerry Falwell founded Liberty University in 1971 to be for evangelical Christians "what Notre Dame is to young Catholics and Brigham Young is to young Mormons," as his son, University Chancellor Jerry Falwell Jr., said on commencement day.
It's become a destination for Republican politicians looking to speak to the religious right, and Romney's campaign team - planning the speech long before gay marriage became a central issue - viewed it as an opportunity to address the kind of socially conservative audience that had been wary of him during the prolonged GOP primary fight.
Romney's past policy positions, including support for abortion rights, don't sit well. But his personal faith is also an issue because many evangelicals don't consider Mormons to be fellow Christians. Evangelicals are a critical segment of the GOP base; many of those voters backed his GOP rivals in the prolonged primary.
Despite the concern, surveys have shown for months now that whatever reservations Republican evangelicals have about Romney's faith, they are likely to back him in the general election.
When he locks in the Republican presidential nomination, Romney will make history as the first Mormon nominee from a major party. His faith is central to him and to his family - he spent two years in France as a missionary, a time when he lived in occasionally primitive conditions. When he returned home, he attended Brigham Young University and married his wife, Ann, who had converted to Mormonism.
Ahead of Romney's remarks, Falwell said the school's invitation to him should not be considered an endorsement. He noted that his father, the school's founder, said Christians should vote for the candidate who shares their political positions "not the candidate that shares his or her faith or theology."
Gay-marriage issue won't be the main campaign issue / A8