By Peter Hamby, CNN
Tampa, Florida – At an event in Michigan on Friday, Mitt Romney joked about the veracity of President Obama’s birth certificate and once again called attention to the GOP’s awkward dance with a grassroots movement that has long questioned the president’s citizenship and eligibility to hold office.
While the “birther” cause seems confined to the harebrained fringes of American politics, it’s actually somewhat closer to the official domain of Republican politics than party leaders would like to admit.
As CNN wrote in May, Republican members of Congress and state-level GOP officials continue to publicly raise questions about Obama’s citizenship.
Some elected officials have even pushed legislation requiring candidates for office to submit a certified birth certificate before securing ballot access.
Two such Republicans were involved in the drafting of the GOP’s official platform earlier this week – though it must be stressed that nothing in the platform raises doubts about Obama’s citizenship.
Tennessee Rep. Marsha Blackburn, a co-chairman of the platform committee, co-sponsored a 2009 House bill called the “Presidential Eligibility Act.”
The bill would have required presidential candidates to submit a copy of one’s birth certificate before seeking office. It died in committee.
At the time, Blackburn said she had no doubts about Obama’s citizenship. But she defended the proposal, saying that “the best way to prevent this distraction from manifesting itself in future elections is to implement a standard of proof that all candidates must abide by when they pursue the office of president.”
A second platform committee member, Alabama state Sen. Cam Ward, co-sponsored a 2011 bill in the state house requiring candidates “to submit a certified copy of his or her birth certificate before his or her name is placed on a ballot.”
Then there’s Kim Lehman, a member of the Republican National Committee from Iowa who was also involved in drafting the party platform. Lehman hasn’t questioned Obama’s citizenship – just his religion.
She caused a stir in 2010 when she falsely claimed that Obama is a Muslim and accused the media of concealing his true faith.
Those are only three people on a committee of over 100 people — and none of them raised questions about Obama’s citizenship in their many hours of platform deliberations this week.
But their presence in the room in Tampa is a reminder that the conspiracy-dabbling fringe isn’t as far away from the GOP mainstream as Republican officials would prefer.