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Devil in the details for Romney

  • Story Highlights
  • Mitt Romney claimed he "saw" father march with Martin Luther King Jr.
  • GOP candidate now says he "saw" dad march "in the figurative sense"
  • Romney campaign says he did not witness father marching with King
  • Romney made claim when asked about Mormon church's exclusion of blacks
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By Rebecca Sinderbrand
CNN Washington Bureau
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- For Mitt Romney, the devil is in the details.

A few of his campaign trail anecdotes -- especially those he relates while on the defensive -- come complete with elements that pack an extra political punch, but sometimes seem to require a steady stream of qualifiers after the fact.

During his recent speech on faith, the former Massachusetts governor told his audience how he had witnessed his father, George Romney, marching with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Romney repeated the claim that his father, who was the governor of Michigan from 1963 to 1969, had marched with King on NBC's Meet the Press last weekend, growing emotional as he discussed his own reaction when he learned that Mormon leadership had decided to allow black people to participate fully in church rites.

"I'm not going to distance myself in any way from my faith," Romney told NBC's Tim Russert. "But you can see what I believed and what my family believed by looking at, at our lives. My dad marched with Martin Luther King. My mom was a tireless crusader for civil rights."

But Romney never did witness his father march with King, as the campaign now acknowledges.

Romney's presidential campaign says that the elder Romney marched with the civil rights leader, that he told his sons he had, and that written accounts from the time back up the claim.

But experts quoted in a Boston Globe investigation this week concluded that the event never happened.

"It's a figure of speech," Romney said this week of the claim he'd witnessed his father and King together, like saying "You know, I speak in the sense of 'I saw my dad become president of American Motors.' I wasn't actually there when he became president of American Motors, but I saw him in the figurative sense of he marched with Martin Luther King."

It isn't the first time Romney has been forced to back down from a convenient defense.

Guns have been a particular problem for him. Earlier this year, he told a New Hampshire voter: "I've been a hunter pretty much all my life," but he admitted later that he did not own a gun or possess a hunting license, and had been hunting only twice in his life.

During Romney's recent Meet the Press interview, he said that his gubernatorial bid had received a National Rifle Association endorsement -- but later conceded that the group's support had been limited to phone banking efforts, "which is not an official endorsement."

"That's what happens in the course of a campaign, when everything you say gets jumped on," Romney spokesman Kevin Madden said Friday. "Do you think every word that came out of your mouth this month was completely accurate? Can anyone's speech stand up to that kind of scrutiny?"

When campaign reporters pressed him on his King claims this week, Romney explained that he "saw" his father march with the civil rights leader "in the figurative sense," but did not literally see the two men walk side by side.

"The reference of seeing my father lead in civil rights, and seeing my father march with Martin Luther King, is in the sense of this figurative awareness of and recognition of his leadership," he said. "I've tried to be as accurate as I can be. If you look at the literature or look at the dictionary, the term 'saw' includes being aware of -- in the sense I've described."

"I'm an English literature major. When we say, 'I saw the Patriots win the World Series,' it doesn't necessarily mean you were there," he said. (The Boston Red Sox won the World Series in 2007. The New England Patriots last won the Super Bowl in 2005.)

The explanation didn't quite satisfy the media. But will it be enough for voters?

A CNN poll conducted earlier this month found that a quarter of New Hampshire's Republicans found Romney the most believable candidate in the race -- enough to give him a tie for the top spot in that category. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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