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NBC's Gregory: Romney's Mormon Faith An 'Issue' Because It's 'The Core of Who He Is'

On Wednesday's NBC Tonight Show, host Jay Leno asked Meet the Press host David Gregory if Mitt Romney's religion would be fair game in the general election: "...with Obama....you know, 'Oh, he's a Muslim. He's not a Christian.' Do you think that Romney will get the same thing about his faith that Obama got?" [Listen to the audio]

While Gregory acknowledged Romney potentially becoming the Republican nominee would be "a huge moment for religious tolerance in the country," he then argued: "But I think it's an issue, I mean, I think a lot of people have questions about the Mormon faith. There's a lot of ignorance about the Mormon faith. And let's be honest, this is the core of who Mitt Romney is....And yet, he doesn't talk about it."

Gregory detailed Romney's Mormon activism over the years: "He was a missionary in France for two years. He has been a bishop in the church, which, in the Mormon church, is effectively like a priest. Philanthropically, he's made huge contributions. He's had a big impact on the church."

Further urging Romney to discuss his faith, Gregory proclaimed:

It's the core of who he is, and yet he doesn't feel like it's safe to talk about....I've seen some polling that suggests even more Democrats than Republicans are uncomfortable with the notion of a Mormon president. I think he's got to talk about that at some level....the Mormon faith this is a tremendous commitment that he has. And yet, I think he feels apprehensive about talking about it openly.

Later, Leno asked about Obama and Romney accusing each other of being out of touch and Gregory touted the President's strategy of attack: "...he basically is going to tear down Romney as being a guy who's going to take you back to the old, you know, Republican ways of cutting important programs and cutting taxes and helping out the rich. And he's sort of making him out to be sort of weird and out of touch. You know, he went after him for saying, as you said, the word 'marvelous.' Like, who uses that word?"

Barack Obama uses that word, that's who.

Here is a portion of Gregory's April 4 exchange with Leno:

12:04AM ET

(...)

JAY LENO: Now something that has not been brought up to this point is Romney's religion. Like, with Obama, first he was a – I saw someone call him an atheist Muslim, which made me laugh. I couldn't figure that out.

DAVID GREGORY: Yeah, exactly.

[LAUGHTER]

LENO: I heard one guy go "He's an atheist Muslim!" I didn't even know what that means.

GREGORY: Right.

LENO: But, I mean – so, you know, "Oh, he's a Muslim. He's not a Christian." Do you think that Romney will get the same thing about his faith that Obama got?

GREGORY: Look, this is a significant moment. I mean, we have the first Mormon Republican nominee, if everything gets formalized, in the country's history. I mean, that's a huge moment for religious tolerance in the country.

But I think it's an issue, I mean, I think a lot of people have questions about the Mormon faith. There's a lot of ignorance about the Mormon faith. And let's be honest, this is the core of who Mitt Romney is. He was a missionary in France for two years. He has been a bishop in the church, which, in the Mormon church, is effectively like a priest. Philanthropically, he's made huge contributions. He's had a big impact on the church. And yet, he doesn't talk about it.

LENO: Right.

GREGORY: It's the core of who he is, and yet he doesn't feel like it's safe to talk about. We –  I've seen some polling that suggests even more Democrats than Republicans are uncomfortable with the notion of a Mormon president. I think he's got to talk about that at some level.

LENO: But we've had breakthroughs. We had the first African-American president.

GREGORY: Yeah.

LENO: We had the first Catholic president. So there's got to be a first for everything, really.

GREGORY: Absolutely, and I don't think it's-

LENO: The first woman president, hopefully someday.

GREGORY: Yeah, and I don't think it's prohibitive, by any means. But I do think it's a question of what moves you, you know? And particularly in the Mormon faith this is a tremendous commitment that he has. And yet, I think he feels apprehensive about talking about it openly. Which I thinks is, you know, sort of keeps him reined in a little bit.

(...)

LENO: Let me ask you something else. This kind of made me laugh. Because I – first, I watched Mitt Romney, "President Obama is out of touch with the people." And then, I watch Obama go, "Mitt Romney, he's out of touch." Are either of these guys in touch with the people?

[LAUGHTER]

GREGORY: Yeah, well, yeah. I mean, this is – you know, who can be more down with the middle class in America?

LENO: Yeah, yeah.

GREGORY: This is the big fight. And again, if you're – you know, these – if you watch what Obama's doing, he has watched President Bush's 2004 re-election very carefully. Where he basically is going to tear down Romney as being a guy who's going to take you back to the old, you know, Republican ways of cutting important programs and cutting taxes and helping out the rich. And he's sort of making him out to be sort of weird and out of touch. You know, he went after him for saying, as you said, the word "marvelous." Like, who uses that word? I think it's kind of like what Bush did to Kerry. That, you know, he was the guy – the wind surfer in Massachusetts. You know, out of touch. And I think – yeah, I think he's trying to do that to him now.

(...)

-- Kyle Drennen is a news analyst at the Media Research Center. Click here to follow Kyle Drennen on Twitter.