RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

As we've just heard from David, Mitt Romney has slipped from the top spot in Iowa in the latest poll. One thing his fellow candidates have criticized him for is changing his views. Romney has become more conservative on issues like abortion. But in an interview with NPR, the former Massachusetts governor insists that he's held on to some liberal views, such as on health care.

Mr. MITT ROMNEY (Republican Presidential Candidate): I do believe we should move towards every citizen becoming insured. That's a position which a lot of conservatives aren't happy with. Likewise on No Child Left Behind, I have been an ardent supporter of No Child Left Behind. I continue to be, and as you know, many conservatives are adamantly opposed in No Child Left Behind.

MONTAGNE: You can hear more of Mitt Romney's views tonight on NPR's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. And later this week this Mormon candidate gives a speech about his religion.

NPR News analyst Cokie Roberts joins us now. Good morning.

COKIE ROBERTS: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Some Romney advisers have been saying that he should have made this speech about his religion some time ago. He's hesitated until now. Why?

ROBERTS: Well, his campaign says, and I'm quoting: "Governor Romney understands that faith is an important issue to many Americans, and he personally feels this moment is the right moment for him to share his views with the nation."

But look, Renee, you've just heard Steve and David talking about Mike Huckabee in Iowa, and what you've got here is Huckabee leading with 44 percent among the evangelical Protestants in Iowa, who make up 40 percent of Iowa Republican caucus-goers. So Mitt Romney clearly feels that this is the time for him to address the question of religion.

People have said to him all along that he needed to make a JFK-style speech, as it's called, referring to Jack Kennedy's famous speech to the ministers in Houston when he was a candidate, where he said I am not the Catholic candidate for president; I am the Democratic Party's candidate for president who happens also to be Catholic. But it has been a fight both inside the campaign and inside the Romney family.

And speaking of family, it's interesting - he's making the speech at the George H.W. Bush Library. Now, the former president says this is not an endorsement of Mitt Romney, but his daughter, Doro, is working for the Romney campaign. So there's clearly something going on there.

MONTAGNE: Now, in that speech, does Romney need to address specifics about the Mormon religion? And if he does, can he do it in a speech like this?

ROBERTS: Well, that's been a big question. And one of the questions he asked when everybody said he should make the speech, is he said, what would I say? He could decide to take on some of the issues that make Americans uncomfortable, is the term they use, about Mormons, and that would be the place of the Bible versus the Book of Mormon, the accuracy of the Book of Mormon, the place of Jesus versus other prophets in religion, understanding of the whole Jesus story.

And like Jack Kennedy, he would have to address probably the question of whether there's a power other than the state over the president. But I think he's not likely to get into specific theological issues any more than Kennedy did. Kennedy didn't talk about things like transubstantiation or the infallibility of the pope.

MONTAGNE: Cokie, looking back at that Kennedy speech, there are whole sections of it that could be tough for Catholic politicians to say today, aren't there?

ROBERTS: I found that so interesting, Renee, when I went back to read it. He said, and I'm quoting: "I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute, where no Catholic prelate would tell the president, should he be Catholic, how to act, where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference."

You know, in the years since then, clearly the Catholic bishops feel much freer to tell Catholic candidates how to vote, particularly on the issue of abortion, and to threaten withholding communion if they don't go along. I think what we're seeing as a very different place for religion in the public square. For a while after Kennedy died, it was really not there. For instance, the Mormon issue was never raised with George Romney, Mitt Romney's father, when he ran for president, or with Mo Udall when he run for president.

But I think you've seen the rise of evangelical voters and a new political voice on the part of the Catholic bishops. And I think we're just in a very different place in terms of religion and politics than we were after the Kennedy election.

MONTAGNE: Cokie, thanks very much. NPR's Cokie Roberts.

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