WASHINGTON, March 28 (UPI) -- U.S. President Obama's faith -- never really put to rest since 2008 -- has re-emerged as Republican hopefuls vie to be the party's presidential nominee.
Both Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum revived the issue of Obama's faith last week, Politico reported Wednesday. Gingrich, during a campaign stop in Louisiana, asked why Obama acts as he does to make voters question his religion even as the former House speaker said he believes Obama is a Christian.
Santorum unveiled an ad last week that cut images of Obama with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Santorum's advisers said the visual element was unintentional.
Mitt Romney, a Mormon, hasn't raised questions about whether Obama is a Muslim. Yet if he becomes the party's nominee, Romney may inherit the issue, Politico said.
"What the Romney team should be doing is watching this [at their rivals' rallies] and trying to figure out how they're going to handle it," a Republican strategist said, adding that Gingrich's approach bothers a majority of Republican surrogates, strategists and candidates.
"I think it's absurd to talk the way Newt did," said Charlie Black, a former McCain strategist who acts as an informal Romney adviser. "If he thinks he's playing for votes -- that's absurd. It crosses the line of civility. On matters of race and religion, people running for national office have an obligation to be extremely careful not to get near a line of race and religion, let alone [cross] it."
On the stump, Gingrich said, "The fact is I take [Obama] at his word, but I think it is very bizarre that he is desperately concerned to apologize to Muslim religious fanatics while they are killing young Americans while at the same time going to war against the Catholic church and against every [right-to-life] Protestant organization in the country. I just think it's a very strange value system."
Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond told Politico Gingrich is not trying to feed into voters concerns about Obama. However, Hammond posted on his Twitter page after a Gingrich news conference, "As long as the president gives people reasons to doubt -- they will doubt."
Meanwhile, Santorum, said on a radio broadcast Friday Obama has "embraced radical Islamic groups," while insisting he hasn't taken issue with Obama's religion.
Peter Wehner, a former speechwriter and adviser to President George W. Bush and now a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, said he thinks Romney will "take a page from Senator McCain."
"The morally right thing and the politically [wise] thing to do" is to denounce and reject it, he said.