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Democrat defends comments on Mitt Romney and polygamy

Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer (D) said Monday that his comments about Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's father being "born on a polygamy commune in Mexico" were being manipulated unfairly. 

Schweitzer said he was merely trying to convey the irony that Romney has a problem with Latino voters when his father is from Mexico. 

“People are taking this far away from where I was discussing,” Schweitzer told CNN. 

"I was saying that Mitt Romney currently has a problem with Latino voters. And it is ironic that his father had come from Mexico," he said. "You could think he could embrace his Latino roots. I wasn’t talking about anybody’s religion. In fact, in my comments I simply said that Mitt Romney is not a polygamist, doesn’t support polygamy and neither does the Mormon church.”

Republicans have criticized Schweitzer's comments, which came in the middle of a discussion on presidential swing states. The Montana governor argued Romney would have a “tall order to position Hispanics to vote for him."

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When Ben Jacobs of the Daily Beast noted that was ironic because Romney's father had been born in Mexico, Schweitzer said Romney couldn't mention his heritage because it carried political liability.

"[It is] kinda ironic given that his family came from a polygamy commune in Mexico, but then he’d have to talk about his family coming from a polygamy commune in Mexico, given the gender discrepancy," Schweitzer said.

The Montana governor went on to say the issue of polygamy could hurt Romney with female voters.

"[Women are] not great fans of polygamy; 86 percent were not great fans of polygamy. I am not alleging by any stretch that Romney is a polygamist and approves of [the] polygamy lifestyle, but his father was born into [a] polygamy commune in Mexico," Schweitzer said. 

Romney's father, former Michigan Gov. George Romney, was not a polygamist, although he was born in the Mormon colonies in northern Mexico. Those colonies were founded primarily by Mormons who fled the United States once the government began cracking gown on the practice of plural marriage. According to the Mormon Church's Family Search service, Romney's great-grandfather, Miles Park Romney, had five wives. The practice of polygamy was repudiated by the LDS Church in 1890.

The comments drew condemnation from the Romney campaign, which said attacks on a candidate's religion should be off limits. Romney himself addressed the issue during an interview with Fox News.

“My dad’s dad was not a polygamist. My dad grew up in a family with a mom and a dad and a few brothers and one sister," Romney said.

The Obama campaign sought to distance itself from Schweitzer's comments. 

“Attacking a candidate's religion is out of bounds, and our campaign will not engage in it, and we don’t think others should either," Obama spokeswoman Lis Smith told the Daily Beast.