Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney has tried to assure voters the Mormon Church would not influence his decisions should he win the White House next year. Romney spoke on faith and politics at the George H. W. Bush presidential library in Texas. More on the speech now from VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone in Washington.
Romney spoke at a time when opinion polls continue to show some public reservations about a Mormon becoming president.
"I do not define my candidacy by my religion," he said. "A person should not be elected because of his faith, nor should he be rejected of his faith."
Romney also promised that if elected next year, he would put the interests of the country ahead of his church.
"If I am fortunate to become your president, I will serve no one religion, no one group, no one cause, and no one interest," he said. "A president must serve only the common cause of the people of the United States."
There are about 13 million Mormons worldwide, with about half that number living in the United States.
Mormons generally accept the teachings in the Christian Bible, but also follow beliefs laid out in their own holy text, the Book of Mormon.
Some Christians consider Mormonism a cult, and public opinion polls during the past year suggest somewhere between a quarter and a third of voters would have reservations about supporting a Mormon candidate for president.
Some political analysts have compared Romney's attempt to explain his religious views with that of another presidential candidate in another time.
"I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute," John Kennedy, the Democratic Party's presidential nominee, said, during a speech to a group of Protestant ministers in Texas during the 1960 campaign.
Mr. Kennedy sought to allay fears that the Roman Catholic Church would have undue influence if he won the presidency.
"I am not the Catholic candidate for president. I am the Democratic Party's candidate for president who happens also to be a Catholic. I do not speak for my church on public matters, and the church does not speak for me," he said.
Mr. Kennedy won a narrow victory over Richard Nixon in 1960, and many analysts believe his assurances on religion helped his cause.
At the moment, Romney is competing for the votes of Evangelical Christians who tend to support Republican candidates in the party caucuses and primaries.
Romney is looking to shore up his standing among religious conservatives in the wake of a surging Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas and one-time Baptist minister who has vaulted into a lead in the polls in the early contest state of Iowa.
Iowa begins the process of selecting the major party presidential nominees with its caucus voting on January 3.
Huckabee has emphasized his religious background. Huckabee was asked on ABC's This Week program if he was trying to draw a contrast with Romney's Mormon upbringing.
"I have spent enough time trying to be the Christian I need to be, rather than tell a Mormon how he needs to behave," he quipped. "So I am not going to get into that argument, because my goal in life is not to evaluate what is wrong with your faith or somebody else's, but is to be able to live mine so that I remember that the greatest commandment is love my neighbor as myself."
Romney is running a close second to Huckabee in the latest Iowa polls. But Romney leads the Republican field in New Hampshire, which holds its primary five days after the Iowa caucuses on January 8.