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Politics

Newt Gingrich’s Iowa political director quits after calling Mormon faith ‘cult’

DES MOINES - Newt Gingrich’s Iowa political director resigned yesterday after less than a week on the job for disparaging comments he made about the Mormon faith, referring to the religion as a “cult.”

Craig Bergman, a Tea Party activist who at the time was unaligned with any campaign, said last week during a newspaper focus group organized by The Iowa Republican and McClatchy newspapers that Mitt Romney’s Mormon religion would cost him votes.

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“There is a national pastor who is very much on the anti-Mitt Romney bandwagon,” Bergman said, according to The Iowa Republican. “A lot of the evangelicals believe God would give us four more years of Obama just for the opportunity to expose the cult of Mormon. ...There’s a thousand pastors ready to do that.”

The Gingrich campaign released a written statement last night about Bergman’s resignation.

“Craig Bergman agreed to step away from his role with Newt 2012 today,” the statement said. “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.”

The focus group also included a retiree, a college student, other Tea Party members, a GOP county co-chair, and some influential consultants, according to the Republican website.

It is unclear what kind of impact Bergman’s resignation will have on the fledging Iowa operations of the latest Republican frontrunner.

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The former House speaker opened up his spartan Iowa headquarters with a staff of eight on Saturday in an Urbandale office park.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, on which Romney is a member along with fellow GOP contender Jon Huntsman, was under attack earlier by a pastor who supports Texas Governor Rick Perry.

Pastor Robert Jeffress also called Mormonism a “cult” while introducing Perry at the Values Voters Summit in Washington. Perry later said he disagrees with Jeffress, but stopped short of disavowing him.

Mormons consider themselves to be Christians because they accept Jesus Christ as their savior. But white evangelical Protestants, who are expected to make up a large bloc of Iowa caucusgoers, are more inclined than the general public to view Mormonism as a non-Christian faith, according to a November poll by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

Still, if Romney ended up the nominee, the Pew poll shows that evangelical support would not slip.

Tracy Jan can be reached at tjan@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeTracyJan.

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