Mitt Romney tried to win over thousands of far-right voters who could sweep him into the White House by appealing directly to 6,000 graduates at Liberty University Saturday in Lynchburg, Va.
The likely Republican presidential candidate – a Mormon – delivered a deeply spiritual, respectful commencement speech at the staunchly conservative school founded on Baptist values.
“Culture — what you believe, what you value, how you live — matters,” Romney said, according to the Washington Post. “As fundamental as these principles are, they may become topics of democratic debate from time to time. So it is today with the enduring institution of marriage. Marriage is a relationship between one man and one woman.”
Romney’s appearance at Liberty was a calculated move.
Until Saturday's speech, he tried to keep his focus on the economy to avoid hot-button social issues that featured prominently in election campaigning this week.
First, President Barack Obama came out in support of gay marriage.
Then, Romney had to deflect criticism he bullied a supposedly gay classmate in high school.
Furthermore, many students expressed dismay when the school announced his appearance.
According to Reuters, Liberty teaches that Mormonism is a cult and had to remove a Facebook page littered with hundreds of angry comments about Romney.
Televangelist Jerry Falwell founded Liberty University in 1971 based on Baptist traditions.
Romney tried to diffuse any distrust.
“Surely the answer is that we can meet in service, in shared moral convictions about our nation stemming from a common worldview,” he said.
Many Liberty students said they appreciated how Romney handled himself.
“He is very strong in his faith, and we need someone who is going to be strong in their faith to lead this country,” graduate Mary Hunter told ABC News.