AdWatch: Romney ad hits Obama on religious freedom

TITLE: "Be Not Afraid"

LENGTH: 30 seconds.

AIRING: The ad is on the web. Romney's campaign said it will air on television beginning Friday, but will not say where.

KEY IMAGES: The spot opens with text that asks "Who Shares Your Values?" followed by a voice that says President Barack Obama "used his health care plan to declare war on religion, forcing religious institutions to go against their faith." As the announcer talks, Obama appears in grainy, black-and-white video above the newspaper headline, "Obama's Insurance Decision Declares War on Religion." The ad then cuts to color video of Romney last month on his visit to Poland, including an excerpt from a speech he gave there. "In 1979, a son of Poland, Pope John Paul II, spoke words that would bring down an empire. Be not afraid," Romney says. A series of images flash by: a photo of Pope John Paul II, arms outstretched, holding a crozier; John Paul talking with ex-Polish President Lech Walesa, the former leader of the Solidarity labor movement that helped end Communist rule. Next is video of Walesa and Romney shaking hands during Romney's visit. Text on the screen says: "Endorsed by Lech Walesa" as a voice asks, "When religious freedom is threatened, who do you want to stand with?"

ANALYSIS: This latest ad by Romney's campaign and the Republican National Committee is the former Massachusetts' governor's most direct bid yet for religious voters.

Obama's health care overhaul split religious groups, with Catholic bishops and conservative Protestants strongly opposed to provisions that permitted women to buy insurance coverage for abortion, provided they used their own money. But liberal Protestant denominations supported the law, as did many religious orders of Catholic nuns, and the trade group representing Catholic hospitals.

Religious objections arose again when the administration ruled that most employers, including faith-affiliated hospitals and nonprofits — but not churches — will have to provide health insurance that includes birth control as a preventive service covered free of charge. The bishops have been fiercely lobbying against the rule. Obama promised to change the requirement so that insurance companies and not faith-affiliated employers would pay for the coverage. But details have not been worked out. And not only the bishops, but Catholic hospitals and some other religious leaders generally supportive of Obama's policies are saying the compromise appears to be unworkable.

Lis Smith, an Obama campaign spokeswoman, said in a statement that the president believes "women should have access to free contraception as part of their health insurance and he has done so in a way that respects religious liberty."

The ad does not name the specific policy on birth control or any others, but instead repeats the broad claim by Obama critics that the administration aims to restrict religious freedom overall.

The ad — and the issue — also gave Romney a way to talk about religion without discussing his own. The presumptive GOP presidential nominee, who is Mormon, has avoided direct mention of his church while campaigning. The spot links Romney with the late, beloved John Paul. The pope was a hero not only to Catholics, but to people across faiths for his defense of Christian orthodoxy, stand against communism and personal struggle as a young man living under the Nazis. The phrase, "Be Not Afraid," is from the Bible, but was used so often by John Paul that it became known as his trademark.

Obama supporters say Romney's focus on Walesa's endorsement isn't the full story. Walesa effectively backed Romney when they met. But the current leaders of the Solidarity movement distanced themselves from Romney, citing his "attacks against trade unions and labor rights."

Catholic voters, who were about one-fourth of the 2008 electorate, are key in any presidential race. The candidate who wins the most Catholic votes usually wins the White House.

While Obama won the overall Catholic vote in 2008, 54 percent to 45 percent, he lost the votes of white Catholics, 52 percent to 47 percent, according to exit polls.

An Aug. 1 poll by the Pew Research Center found that more than half of Catholics who had heard about the birth control rule side with the Catholic bishops. So far this year, neither Obama nor Romney has established a consistent lead among Catholic voters. Obama had a narrow edge overall in the Pew survey, but Romney was slightly ahead among white Catholics.