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On the ground at Romney speech

From NBC/NJ's Erin McPike
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- In what some may consider the biggest moment of his political career, Romney this morning gave a speech on faith and the degree to which his own would factor into his presidency. 

His overarching point here from the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum auditorium was that the United States has had a long history of religious tolerance, and therefore he ought not be "elected" or "rejected" on the basis of his faith. He explained in several ways that his faith would not inform his presidential decisions, but he did point out the values system that stems from his faith, and noted, "You can witness them in Ann and my marriage and in our family."

VIDEO: Mitt Romney makes a landmark speech on religious freedom and how his Mormon faith would inform his presidency.

As far as addressing some of the concerns non-Mormons have about his denomination, Romney addressed one thing only: his beliefs about Jesus Christ. About a quarter of the way through his remarks, he explained: "I believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God and the savior of mankind," but he conceded, "My church's beliefs about Christ may not all be the same as those of other faiths."

"I thought it was a remarkable speech, it was an eloquent speech," said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, who spoke with reporters in the auditorium after the address. Land, who said he will not endorse as a matter of personal policy and obligation to his church, added he thought it was "Kennedy-esque." Land said he thought Romney's points were right, and that discriminating against him on the basis of religion would be un-American, as Romney has said before. Asked if he thought there was anything he thought was missing from the speech, Land said he couldn't think of anything.

But Palmetto Family Council President Oran Smith circulated via e-mail an "Evangelical Review" of the speech. There was one point that caused Smith concern: "Yes, he said Jesus is "Savior of the world," and he called Jesus "the Lord," but how is salvation gained." He provided nine points that he liked, including Romney's decision not to "go into the specific doctrines of Mormonism."
Smith also liked his "emphasis on breakdown on family," his denouncement of secularism and the lack of "the old pre-1993 pro-abortion, pro-gay Mitt." What Smith liked most of all was Romney's "sadness over sophisticated religious coldness of Europe," writing "Wow. Loved that. That was big."

Romney's biggest applause line of the speech occurred near the end when discussing the United States' founding fathers: "And so together they prayed, and together they fought, and together, by the grace of God… they founded this great nation." Romney received a standing ovation at the line, as well as when he took the podium and when he concluded.

There were slightly more than a dozen applause lines in total, and Romney stuck to the script of the speech. While on the stump, he doesn't follow the same speech from event to event. Instead, he swaps out sections and inserts sections from location to location. Many of his lines are the same on the stump, but they don't appear everywhere, and his order is never the same. One note, when discussing radical jihad in this speech, Romney did not give his pronouncements with the same conviction that he usually gives on the stump. 
 
Leading up to the remarks, silence fell over the auditorium at 10:23 -- nearly 10 minutes before President George H.W. Bush and Romney took the stage. In his introduction of the candidate, the former president lavished praised on Romney and his family, including Romney's father, George Romney, who ran for president in 1968. He said, though, that he has too much respect for many of the candidates to issue an endorsement and has been pleased that many of them have chosen to speak at the library.
 
Bush also introduced Romney's sons, four of whom were in attendance. Son Ben, a medical student, was not there. After the speech, joined by Ann Romney and George and Barbara Bush, the candidate motioned to his sons to join them on the stage, mouthing, "Come on up, come on up." There, began an assembly line of hugs. When Romney left the stage, he went immediately to the audience to greet supporters and religious figures.