Mitt Romney and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie took aim Tuesday at Texas Gov. Rick Perry for a comment by a prominent Dallas preacher, a supporter of Perry's White House run, who called Mormonism a "cult."
At an event in New Hampshire at which Romney publicly received Christie's endorsement for the White House Romney, the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination, said:
"Gov. Perry selected an individual to introduce him who then used religion as a basis for which he said he would endorse Gov. Perry and as a reason to not support me.
"And then Gov. Perry said that introduction just 'hit it out of the park.' I just don't believe that kind of divisiveness based on religion has a place in this country... I would call on Gov. Perry to repudiate the sentiment and the remarks made by that pastor."
Christie, for his part, strongly denounced the statement of Rev. Robert Jeffress, the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas as well.
"Any campaign that associates itself with that kind of conduct is beneath the office of the president, in my opinion."
Romney's response was his strongest and most direct yet to an incident that occurred Friday at the Values Voter Summit in Washington. In introducing Perry to the audience of Christian conservatives, Jeffress, suggested that Perry's beliefs were closer to the audience members than a politician he didn't name but who was clearly Romney, who is a Mormon.
Later, in talking with reporters covering the summit, Jeffress sharpened his attack, calling Mormomism "a cult."
Christie likened Jeffress' comments to those who opposed the New Jersey governor's decision to appoint a Muslim-American to a judgeship. (Christie's defense last summer of the judge won the conservative governor plaudits across the ideological spectrum.)
On Tuesday, Christie said:
"These kind of religious matters have nothing to do with the quality of someone's ability to lead. You have to evaluate their record, evaluate their character, their integrity. Not based upon their religious beliefs. But based upon who they are."
Romney said the Founding Fathers' guiding spirit was one of tolerance for people of different faiths, a respect religious diversity.
He pointed to Article Six of the U.S. Constitution, which states that no religious test should ever be required to qualify for any "office or public trust under the United States."