Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, a Mormon, is reaching out to disenchanted evangelicals, hoping for support for his presidential campaign from conservatives upset about Republican front-runner Rudy Giuliani’s liberal social views. Focus on the Family leader James Dobson confirmed this week that he and other conservative Christian leaders planned to back a third-party candidate if the Republicans nominate a candidate who supports abortion rights—a clear reference to Giuliani.

It’s puzzling, said syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker in The Denver Post. If conservative Christians are so troubled about Giuliani, why on Earth haven’t they rallied behind Romney already? He’s the “obvious pick for the party.” In Massachusetts, he fought same-sex unions and embryonic cloning. He’s “pro-life,” even if he was “previously pro-choice.” If anything, he’s “too perfect,” except for one thing. As a Mormon, “he’s a cultist. Or so some Christians think.”

The religion issue is no joke, said Robert Novak in the Chicago Sun-Times, and Romney will have to address it sooner or later. Some loyal Republicans have said flatly that they won’t vote for him because of his religion, which they truly see as a cult. “Romney is asked about Mormonism wherever he goes.” He has to put the matter to rest—the way JFK spoke about his Catholicism and shut up religious bigots for good. And the best way to do that is to point out that “a religious test as un-American.”

The entire Republican field will suffer if conservative Christians follow through on the threat to back a third-party candidate, said Michael Kranish in The Boston Globe (free registration). A “revolt by social conservatives” could “dampen the turnout in the primaries and possibly siphon off Republican votes to provide the margin of victory to Democrats in the general election.”

It’s way too early to worry about loyal Republicans backing a spoiler candidate, said Gary Bauer in Some people support Giuliani because they think he’s the only one with enough “electability” to defeat Hillary Clinton, but once the rank-and-file get to know his views on abortion and other key issues, his strength will fade. “The truth is that the GOP does not need to settle for a socially liberal nominee, because socially conservative positions still win the day.”