April 11th, 2012
03:34 PM ET
By Dan Gilgoff, CNN.com Religion Editor
(CNN) - A top evangelical leader who is close to Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign says the candidate’s Mormon faith will be even more of an issue in the general election than it has been in the primary, predicting that the focus on Romney’s faith will present a challenge to Romney.
Richard Land is the public policy chief for the Southern Baptist Convention, the country’s largest evangelical denomination. He said Wednesday that he expects that the news media will make Mormonism more of an issue in an attempt to get independent voters to support President Barack Obama.
“The 40% of electorate that’s independent, most of them have no idea what Mormons believe,” Land said. But they will all know what Mormons believe by the general election because the electronic national media by and large is the in the tank for Mr. Obama.”
The Southern Baptist leader predicted there would soon be television specials about Mormonism, since Romney appears to be the inevitable Republican nominee for president following Rick Santorum’s suspension of his campaign.
The news media “are going to go into startling detail in specials about what will be considered by many independents the rather exotic beliefs of Mormonism, like baptism for the dead, in hopes they can turn off independents who say ‘I don’t want to vote for a guy that believes that,’” said Land.
Speaking to a group of CNN journalists in Washington, Land said that most evangelicals are familiar with the tenets of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the official church of Mormonism, because the two groups are competing for converts.
Most evangelicals already “know what Mormonism believes and most of them are prepared to vote for Mitt Romney in a general election against Barack Obama in spite of his Mormonism,” Land said.
Land does not endorse candidates but has been close to Republican administrations like George W. Bush’s and has met with Romney on more than one occasion.
Asked about Land's prediction about Romney's Mormonism becoming a bigger issue in the general election, Romney campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul said that "most people don't care if you go to a different church."
"What matters for the vast majority of voters is shared values," she said in an e-mail message. "In Mitt Romney they have a candidate who believes in faith, patriotism, hard work, and sacrifice. All they have to do is look at his family and how he lives his life."
At a dinner with Romney several months ago, Land said he warned the candidate – who he said didn’t think Mormonism would be much of an issue – against answering the news media’s question about his religion.
Land told the candidate that “If the media persists in trying to get you to defend … some of the more exotic beliefs of Mormonism, you turn it around on them and pummel them around the head and shoulders with the Constitution and say there is no religious test for office and for you to inject my religious beliefs into this campaign is un-American.”
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team and frequent posts from religion scholar and author Stephen Prothero.