June 2nd, 2011
03:04 PM ET
Is America ready for a Mormon president?
By Dan Gilgoff, CNN.com Religion Editor
(CNN) - Mitt Romney’s campaign team knows that his Mormon faith scared off Republican voters the last time he ran for president.
But they believe a lot has changed in the last four years.
For starters, Romney is now much better known. The former Massachusetts governor campaigned hard in the 2008 primaries – even addressing his Mormonism head-on in a major speech — and has stayed in the public eye since, popping up on late-night talk shows and on cable news channels.
Romney’s Mormonism, the thinking goes, is less exotic than it was four years ago because the candidate is more familiar.
Plus, unlike in 2008, there’s a Democrat in the White House for Republican voters to unite against. The Romney camp hopes the Obama factor will boost support for a battle-tested candidate who’s shown he can raise the hundreds of millions of dollars White House bids require, regardless of the candidate’s religious affiliation.
And unlike the 2008 Republican primaries, when George W. Bush was in the White House and debate over the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan loomed large, next year’s elections are poised to hang on the economy. Not a bad time, maybe, for a guy with a Harvard MBA and a career spent turning around financially troubled companies and the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah.
“The country’s really in a tough situation — the economy’s in a bad place and so people suddenly think that a guy with Mitt Romney’s capacity and experience looks a lot more attractive than he did four years ago,” says Mark DeMoss, a senior adviser to Romney’s campaign, which launched Thursday.
“That makes his faith much less of an issue than it was four years ago,” says DeMoss, who is tasked with helping Romney woo evangelical voters, a huge chunk of the GOP base and a constituency that’s historically been wary of Mormonism.
Whether DeMoss is right may make the difference in whether Romney, the current Republican frontrunner based on polls and fundraising, can actually win the Republican nomination and, ultimately, the White House.
But Romney may not be the only Mormon running for president. Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman is seriously flirting with a presidential bid.
Huntsman, Obama’s former ambassador to China, recently took a five-day swing through New Hampshire, site of the first-in-the-nation Republican primary, and has hired staff in South Carolina, another key primary state.
The prospect of a Huntsman campaign means the nation could see an unprecedented test of whether the GOP — and, perhaps, the rest of the country — is ready for a Mormon president in an era when candidates’ religious beliefs have become weighty campaign issues.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as the Mormon Church is officially known, certainly seems eager for Mormonism to be less an issue in the presidential race than it was for Romney in 2008
“Recent media coverage seems to lean toward the conclusion that among many Americans, faith will be less of an issue in this election than it was in 2008,” church spokesman Michael Purdy said in a statement to CNN. “But it’s really for others to speculate on this.”
Public opinion polls suggest a lingering bias against Mormon candidates. A survey released Thursday by the Pew Research Center found that a quarter of American adults admit to being less likely to vote for a Mormon candidate for president.
The survey found that resistance to Mormon candidates was even higher among two groups: liberal Democrats and evangelicals, who overwhelmingly vote Republican. One in three white evangelicals said they were less likely to support a Mormon candidate.
That creates a stiff headwind for Romney and Huntsman, given evangelicals’ primary power. In 2008, evangelicals accounted for 60 percent of Republican voters in Iowa, home to the first-in-the-nation presidential caucuses, and in South Carolina, whose primaries come hard on the heels of New Hampshire’s.
In 2008, Romney’s Mormonism “was a real factor in Iowa and South Carolina that predisposed many potential voters to never to consider Romney or hear his message,” said Gary Marx, who directed conservative outreach for Romney the last time he ran.
That year, Romney placed second in Iowa and fourth in South Carolina behind then-frontrunner Mike Huckabee – a Baptist preacher who won major evangelical support.
Though Mormons consider themselves to be Christians, many evangelicals consider the Latter-day Saints to be a cult.
Evangelicals object to the Mormon belief that the Book of Mormon is the revealed word of God and to such Mormon practices as proxy baptisms for the dead. Evangelicals and Mormons also compete for converts.
Many evangelical leaders have discouraged their followers from translating such differences into opposition to Mormon candidates. But that message isn’t always heeded.
“I don’t think it’s much of an issue among the leadership in evangelical circles,” Michael Farris, an influential evangelical activist, says of Mormon candidates. “But I don’t know if that is always true at the grassroots level.”
Richard Land, who directs public policy for the Southern Baptist Convention, the country’s largest evangelical denomination, says evangelicals could coalesce around Romney but that the conditions would have to be just right.
“If Southern Baptists have a choice between an evangelical candidate, a Catholic and a Mormon and all three appear to be equally conservative and equally likely to beat Barack Obama, they’ll vote for the evangelical,” says Land, who has informally advised Romney on how to deal with his faith on the campaign trail.
“If there’s no such evangelical [in the] race, they’ll vote for the Catholic,” he says, “But if there’s no other candidate who’s likely to beat Obama, they’ll vote for the Mormon.”
Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, an evangelical, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a Catholic, are running for the GOP nomination.
Beyond theological challenges, conservative activists like Land and Farris say Romney faces skepticism among religious conservatives because he once supported abortion rights and signed a healthcare law in Massachusetts that critics say represented a dramatic government overreach.
But those close to Romney argue that Huckabee’s decision not to enter the 2012 race creates an opportunity for Romney to pick up more evangelical support. Or, they say, it could wind up splitting evangelical voters among multiple primary candidates, making evangelicals a less potent force.
DeMoss, a Christian public relations executive who also helped Romney with evangelical outreach in 2008, says one of the victories from the last campaign was that no big-name evangelical came out against Romney over his Mormonism. This time, DeMoss is working to get some evangelical leaders to go a step further and publicly support Romney.
After Romney’s 2008 defeat, one nationally known evangelical leader privately told DeMoss that he’d voted for Romney in the primaries.
“I remember thinking, it would have been nice if somebody else knew that,” says DeMoss, who believes such revelations would have made more evangelicals comfortable supporting a Mormon candidate.
Huntsman’s entry into the presidential race could make Mormonism less of an issue if it has a mainstreaming effect. But the two candidates’ religious affiliations could play out quite differently.
Romney has long been active in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), having occupied Mormon leadership positions like bishop (the rough equivalent of a lay pastor) and stake president (someone who oversees groups of Mormon congregations).
“I believe in my Mormon faith and I endeavor to live by it,” Romney said in a December 2007 speech in which he addressed his Mormonism. “My faith is the faith of my fathers — I will be true to them and to my beliefs.”
Huntsman, like Romney, spent two years abroad as a Mormon missionary but has kept some distance from the LDS church. As governor of Utah, he loosened liquor laws that had been inspired by Mormon orthodoxy and broke with his church in signing a law allowing civil unions for gay couples.
In a recent television interview, Huntsman affirmed his Mormon faith but added that Mormonism is “a very diverse and heterogeneous cross-section of people. ... I probably add to that diversity somewhat.”
A Huntsman adviser who often deals with the media declined to respond to requests for comment.
Matthew Bowman, an editor at a Mormon studies journal called Dialogue, says Huntsman hails from a slightly younger generation of Mormons who are less defensive about their Mormonism.
“Huntsman is a Mormon who thinks of his faith not as something that separates him from American culture or as something he has to defend or explain away, which is what Romney did,” says Bowman. “Romney is always hyperaware of his Mormonism.”
That means Huntsman may face fewer questions about his Mormonism should he run.
The LDS church, for its part, says its policy is to steer clear of electoral politics. Some church observers say the controversy the church generated by supporting California’s 2008 gay marriage ban, Proposition 8, exacerbated its political reticence.
At the same time, the church has capitalized on increased attention paid to Mormonism - provoked by everything from Romney’s 2008 campaign to the current hit Broadway musical, “Book of Mormon” - with a succession of public awareness campaigns.
The church website Mormon.org, for example, was recently revamped with an eye toward educating non-Mormons about the religion. The site features video profiles of Mormons from different walks of life.
“The message of these ads is that members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints are your friends and neighbors,” says Purdy, the church spokesman. “We are professionals and tradespeople, artists and teachers and everything in between.”
Put another way, the message is that Mormons are normal, everyday Americans.
With the Republican primary race finally starting in earnest, the nation is about get a major glimpse into whether GOP voters agree.
About this blog
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 with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.
How about is America ready for an Atheist President?
I am !!! I am!!!
I am not sure why one fairy tale should be favored (or not favored) over others, but I guess if you believe in imaginary friends as an adult you can make up whatever you want.
This is nothing but a smear campaign for pro-Obama CNN to even print such an article! That's all this is!
The media should remain unbiased when reporting on political news. SHAME ON YOU!
Yeah...like FOX News does. (sarcasm)
You mean like when the media including (conservative media) started asking "Is America ready for a Black President"...?
Actually, it's a valid question. It's a historical fact that Americans do judge their candidates by their faiths. That's why there's a huge bias against atheists. That's why it was such a big deal when catholic John Kennedy was elected. That's why the news is filled with soundbites of presidents and candidates attending the church of their choice.
Read the Changing World of Mormonism or find it at http://www.utlm.org/onlinebooks/changecontents.htm. Sandra Tanner who co-authored the book is a great-great-granddaughter of Brigham Young. Also read up on the White Horse prophecy. Then ponder why mainstream christianity and Mormanism collide. Will the social conservative "christians" support a Mormon President? Hmmmmm
Believe it or not conservative Christians probably will back a Mormon President and would have done so had he won the nomination. I think at this point they will vote any way they can to defeat Obama. Frankly, I dont regard Palin or Bachmann any more of a Christian than what Romney claims. They have have extreme theologies, so yes, I do see conservative Christians voting for a Mormon.
You've got a Muslim President now – so what does it matter?
According to the LDS Church, the wearing of temple garments serves a number of purposes. First, the garment provides the wearer with "a constant reminder" of the covenants made in the temple. Second, the garment "provides protection against temptation and evil". Finally, wearing the garment is "an outward expression of an inward commitment" to follow Jesus Christ. General authority Carlos E. Asay adds that the garment "strengthens the wearer to resist temptation, fend off evil influences, and stand firmly for the right."
The nature of the protection believed to be afforded by temple garments is ambiguous and varies between adherents. Researchers who interviewed a sample of Latter-day Saints who wear the temple garment reported that virtually all wearers expressed a belief that wearing the garment provided "spiritual protection" and encouraged them to keep their covenants. Some of those interviewed "asserted that the garment also provided physical protection, while others seemed less certain of any physical aspect to protection." In Mormon folklore, tales are told of Latter-day Saints who credit their temple garments with helping them survive car wrecks, fires, and natural disasters.
And again I remind:
Schizophrenia is a mental disorder that makes it difficult to tell the difference between real and unreal experiences, to think logically, to have normal emotional responses, and to behave normally in social situations.
As the illness continues, psychotic symptoms develop:
• False beliefs or thoughts that are not based in reality (delusions)
• Hearing, seeing, or feeling things that are not there (hallucinations)
Unless you have been a practicing Mormon, you don't know what you are talking about. Period. People say a lot of false things about Mormons and others believe those false things as the truth. If you really want to know, find out for yourself or don't bother posting about it. Yes, I have been a practicing Mormon but no longer am. Mormons are Christians, more so than this fraud who claims to be the U.S. president. If Romney were to win, he'd probably do a lot better job than the guy he'd be replacing. (And I am not a Romney fan.)
Why not! I didn't know that religion or lack thereof was a requirement to be POTUS.
You Said: "Why not! I didn't know that religion or lack thereof was a (requirement )to be POTUS."
It's a 'requirement' to be a 'Christian,' or some version thereof, if the person running for POTUS wants to have any chance to be elected... at least at this point in time.
But certainly being 'religious' is not a 'requirement' nor necessarily equate to being a 'good' POTUS.
There is a big difference.
Ask him why black people didn't have souls until the 1960's
College basketball was just picking up steam at that time, and the money started to flow.
You know I have a few African American friends and family that ask the same about all whites in society.
Or are you saying that it was only the Mormons who were racist back then?
Religion is a choice, unlike race. I'm not ready for a Mormon because I seriously question the foundation of the religion along with anyone who makes it their own..
Agreed, but I think just the same about Christians, Muslims, Jews or indeed any religion. They all reflect poorly on the critical thinking of the candidate.
As a California Mormon, I can say that the Utah, Arizona and Idaho Mormons I have meet or interacted with tend to be very stiff and introverted like some commenters have described. That does not mean we live our religion any differently or do not uphold it any less. However, I have noticed a willingness to be a little more human toward others. That does not mean I agree with redefining the basic structure of human society for example. I think Mitt Romney will be more like me than any Utah Mormon that some on this page may have meet.
i DO NOT CARE ABOUT HIS FAITH AND WHAT RELIGION HE IS FOLLOWING.
I WANT SOMEONE WHO knows THE WORK. WHO CAN FIX OUR ECONOMY .
OBAMA IS USELESS. CLUELESS MAN. TAKING VACATION AFTER VACATION.
Excuse me troll... do you enjoy annoying people online?
Obama "vacations all the time" eh? I guess you don't remember the previous President's vacation schedule. To be clear, in the entirety of his Presidency, George W. Bush spent 487 days at Camp David, and 490 days at his ranch in Texas. If that math's a bit hard for you, that's 2.6 YEARS out of 8 on "vacation".
During the first year in office, President Obama spent 26 days on vacation (where he was still working, because the POTUS doesn't actually have the ability to take a "day off"), where as President Bush II spent 69 days of his first year in office on vacation.
Quit being so asinine & read a book that wasn't written by someone who appears more than once a month as a guest on Fox News.
Don't believe me? Google it or check http://www.factcheck.org/2010/01/president-obamas-vacation-days/ for stats.
Nice 'stats' to back up your claim. Well said !
You dems are a bunch of morons. As stories blossom all over the world about your failed policies you continue to say it was the fault of George bush. It's time to put your policies aside and say that what we are doing is not working. You have been lied to when it comes to "wall street" money in the fact that they donated record amounts of money to Obama, bot McCain. You have been lied to about the justice dept fair treatment of policy. If you can't vote republican, please don't vote at all. Your children and grandchildren will thank you one day. If not, look at California, Illinois, Maryland and Nevada, high unemploymnt rates, businesses fleeing by the dozens and welfare fraud run rampid. Then think do you want that in your state! Don't be an idiot, please.
Lol. Oh ok and republicans aren't liars??? Lol. God what a laugh. You sound ridiculous. Your party fed off the working middle class and your presidents drove this country into a huge deficit. Reagan ( mister I don't have a brain), W. Please save yourself the embarrassment of such moronic statements.
You are the idiot here...
You left out Texas.
Yeah, but that would mean the Dems actually having to, um, take responsibility for their own actions! Heaven forbid!
hipocrytes....what about a Muslim president if America doesn't care about religion?
OK, I am a Christian and I dont' believe that two drunk guys, go into for 2 or 3 days, drunk out otheir minds and when they sober up they discover that they don't know what to tell their wives, hmmmmmmm. Honey we found another 5 commandments, and an angel of God came an spoke with us, his name St. Moron, nooooo I mean Moroni, yeah St. Moroni, you gotta believe us, and another thing we can have more than one wife? NO MORMOM, LEAVE OUR MEDICARE AND MEDICAID ALONE, you clown!
Prejudice at it's best in this article and some of the comments. Beats the he*l out of the Mulim we have now. Can't wait or the burka's. Fashion statement at it's best. What will the models do, or the basketball players running along with turbans. All of this religious crap is just that. Do away with the word religion and what would you have.
As a non-mormon living in Utah I can assure you that I will not be voting for the Mittster. Mormonism at the state level is bad enough.
Why are you trapping in Utah, they still have U-Hauls don't they ? I am not a Mormon and have lived in Utah for the last 20 years and I think Mitt would do a great job.
You reek of cult. How are things down on North Temple? I didn't know that they let you guys have access to the internets.
TrappedInZion... a little to the South about 70 miles, might be a cult if being a Biker is cult of the two wheelers
of course America is ready for a Mormon president.. just like it was ready for a black president.. just not Romney though!
Mormona (as all religious sects) are Mormons first, anything else distant second. We have enough 'mainstream' religious (nominally) politicians to choose from a religious sects slightly more deranged than the rest of them. Romney may not be a bad person, in his previsous (MA) incarnatation he actually implemented kind of Obamacare. There are enough talented politicians, though, and we are not stuck with a deranged minority that may not even be Christian. Who were, after all, the pre-Columbus 'Christians' widely publiced in their 'Book of Mormon', equivalent to long abandoned 'false' books of New Testament? Very odd even to think about it and Romney as a non-Mormon does not exist.
Did we forget Obama was from a racist church.... Guess America was ready for a racist President?
I did not forget Obamas past at all nor would I ever vote for him. Best of luck to Mitt in his run for office.
I think most Republicans biggest problem is that Romney has an IQ over 60. Because of this, he will never get the nomination.
Yeah, but how much of G.W.'s projects has Obama kept... just signed an extention to the Patriot act. How many of G.W.'s people did he keep in office?
How many theaters of war do we still have troops on the ground from G.W.'s presidency? Add to that it looks like we are going into Lybia.
Yeah, there was a big change since G.W..
It's tacky for CNN to even post a headline like this. It shouldn't matter what his religion is, just like it shouldn't matter what color he is. Instead of laying out his true values, we get this garbage. Shame on CNN in my opinion.
I completely agree with you!