Is America ready for a Mormon president?
Mitt Romney announcing his presidential candidacy in New Hampshire on Thursday.
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.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Mitt Romney • Mormonism • Politics

soundoff (3,046 Responses)
  1. Tim

    Pawlenty for President!!!

    June 2, 2011 at 7:36 pm |
  2. Common Sense

    America's ready for a president who believes in rationality, and won't subject the entire populous to mandates derived from fairy tails. Unfortunately, I don't think I'll see it in my lifetime.

    June 2, 2011 at 7:35 pm |
    • mickey1313

      I agree, I hope youre wrong, I hope to see a secular perz in my life, but not too hopefull.

      June 2, 2011 at 7:38 pm |
    • Sid

      <-also hopeful...but am not holding my breath. Watch TV...how many rational Americans are there really?

      June 2, 2011 at 7:57 pm |
  3. Debby

    I guess the same question could be asked was America ready for a Catholic Pres., Christian Pres. Lutheran Pres. etc. etc. CNN is getting so stupid with their questions.

    June 2, 2011 at 7:32 pm |
  4. Amused

    Nomney, he is still the guy huckabee said looks like someone who would fire people to balance the books rather than hire – he says arbitrary 20% ceiling on spending, what'll he cut?

    June 2, 2011 at 7:31 pm |
  5. eff youall

    I don't care what religion our president is so long as he leaves it at the front door of the WH.

    Mormons are called cultists the same way Christians were 2000 years ago.

    June 2, 2011 at 7:31 pm |
    • mickey1313

      they are all cultests. When you can proove facts wrong, and people still believe them, then it is a brainwashed cut. Why do we alow people to make money at this, and not tax the ever loveing crud out of them.

      June 2, 2011 at 7:36 pm |
  6. Mike

    I think it's funny how there's people on here calling Mormonism fake. They call it fake, but at the same time swear a man rose from the dead. lol. How about both your religions are fake.

    June 2, 2011 at 7:30 pm |
    • mickey1313

      I agree with you, all religon is q fraud. the cult of mormenism rose out of the cult of christianity, which rose out of the cult of jewdism. All theists are brainwashed.

      June 2, 2011 at 7:34 pm |
    • up1652

      Hate to burst your bubble but the real name of the "Mormons" is the church of Jesus Christ and Latter Day Saints.

      June 2, 2011 at 7:37 pm |
    • Tim

      So this universe and world we live on just happened out of nothing...ex nihilo. Even Einstein understood that some intelligent being had to have created the universe. If there is an intelligent being out there who created all of this and us...do you think we are all accidents? All of this has no purpose, no meaning? Evolution has so many chasms in it's theory that it is a pile of rubble and scientists know it. But like Michael Behe says, "we can't allow a Divine foot in the door." It takes more faith to believe that this earth and human life is an accident then it takes to believe that a creator made all of this. God is calling you, He created you, and He wants you to know Him. Accept the free gift of God through Jesus Christ the Son, for atonement for your sins. You are not an accident, you have a purpose, find God through Jesus and you'll find that purpose.

      June 2, 2011 at 7:48 pm |
  7. Pongo

    Romney believes that the head of his "church" is prophet directly descended from God and Jesus. So whatever that prophet tells him to do, he must do. Because you can't say "no" to God. Also, the prophet is never wrong. Not even about banning Blacks. That wasn't wrong according to the Mormons. In the late '70s, God told their then-prophet to "let them in" and so they did. You all buying any of this?

    Anyway, the founder of that "religion," Joseph Smith, was a convicted felon. When his "looking glass" scheme landed him in jail, he had to come up with a new one.

    Isn't there ONE worthy Republican out there who can run? Not that I'd ever vote Republican, but holy smoke! This party's turned into a big, fat joke.

    June 2, 2011 at 7:29 pm |
    • Tim

      Pawlenty is worth it. Look what he did in his state. He's sharp.

      June 2, 2011 at 7:39 pm |
    • Mike

      You might want to correct your comment about what you "know" about the Mormon religion. Try reading about the church's beliefs before posting construed ideals you claim the church believes.

      June 2, 2011 at 7:39 pm |
  8. Robin Bray

    I will never vote for a candidate uses their religion as a reason to vote for them.

    June 2, 2011 at 7:26 pm |
    • Shannon

      Ditto!!! Lesson learned from this current president...

      June 2, 2011 at 7:30 pm |
    • mickey1313

      Agreed, anyone who thinks that being religous (any religon) is a good think for a canidate, is a fool who is missing the entire point of america.

      June 2, 2011 at 7:30 pm |
    • Mark from Middle River

      Is Rommey doing that?

      June 2, 2011 at 7:31 pm |
  9. reg

    No. I am a republican, and I say no... nothing to do with religion, mind you, just everything to do with his idiocy

    June 2, 2011 at 7:25 pm |
  10. Kevin McQueen

    Do the reader's know we already have SIX Mormon senators – why should we be questioning Romney credentials because of his religion – or is it because he is not a Democratic Party candidate ???

    June 2, 2011 at 7:25 pm |
    • pithymcgee

      I'm nowhere near as concerned for the bias against mormons as I am for the bias against atheists.

      June 2, 2011 at 7:31 pm |
  11. stantheman

    We blame our enemies for being members of fanatical religious sects believing in things somebody fabricated. As the saying goes, if you can't beat them, join them.

    June 2, 2011 at 7:24 pm |
    • up1652

      Foolish remark. Us violent Methodists have stoned so mmany lately and exploded so many sucude bombs.

      June 2, 2011 at 7:41 pm |
  12. Danny Cali

    If Mormon get elect for President I think people have chance to get more wife and husband. So, let just dump Mr. Mormon now.

    June 2, 2011 at 7:23 pm |
    • Abby

      Yeah you obviously really know your stuff seeing as to it that the Mormon church DOES NOT practice polygamy.

      June 2, 2011 at 7:26 pm |
    • KM

      1. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints NO LONGER practices polygamy.
      2. They gave it up in order to gain statehood for Utah.
      3. It was never possible for a woman to have more than one husband, only a man to marry multiple wives.
      4. There are still "Mormon" believers who are NOT PART of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They may be members of any one of "RLDS" or "reformed LDS" congregations/communities.
      5. A majority of "Mormons" including any in politics (and Glenn Beck) are members of the main LDS community, not RLDS. Thus even amongst "Mormons" polygamy is very unusual.
      6. The mainstream LDS church excommunicates anyone who engages in polygamy to this day.

      Just the facts.

      June 2, 2011 at 7:34 pm |
    • Bob Cali

      Perhaps if you were educated and could form a clear sentence you could be taken seriously.

      June 2, 2011 at 7:34 pm |
  13. Falcon

    Krow ..how would you describe Islamic Fundamentalism? Cult or not a cult?

    June 2, 2011 at 7:22 pm |
    • mickey1313

      by definition, there is no difference between cult and religon. Only the nu,ber of followers ad the "mainstreamness" of a cult propels it to religon. They are all based on non-porvable (and often easily disprovable) stories, with no relivance to the moderen world. If people stoped believing this crap and chastized those to did believe these fairy tales,. then the world would be a much better palce.

      June 2, 2011 at 7:27 pm |
    • KM

      What's the difference between a church and a cult?

      ... about a hundred years.

      June 2, 2011 at 7:38 pm |
  14. Matt

    "Many scholars, especially ex Mormons, have shown that the 'revelations' of Joseph Smith, the cult's founder were concoctions. Smith was a man who dabbled in 'seer stones,' tall tales, many women, gunfights and money digging. Scholars have also totally debunked the Book of Abraham by showing that Smith's 'translation' of hieroglyphics from ancient papyri was a grand hoax. That aside, if that was his hustle, all power to him but please, keep it among his homegrown ignorant."

    "Ideas that black people are cursed descendents of Cain, one of the Bible's greatest villains, and that blacks were less valiant in the premortal life, essentially "fence-sitters" in the battle between God and Satan in heaven, continue to be taught and believed by many Mormons, although not sanctioned as doctrine."

    June 2, 2011 at 7:21 pm |
    • mickey1313

      Exactly, this cult is rediculous. Anyone who would vote for someone who believes this crap is a fing fool.

      June 2, 2011 at 7:24 pm |
    • sam

      I love how you quote your source as 'Many scholars, especially ex Mormons'. Such a credible source! Now try doing some real research.

      June 2, 2011 at 7:30 pm |
    • Ancient Curse

      Seems like a credible source to me, Sam. I trust an ex-Mormon to tell me about the church in the same way I'd trust an ex-con to tell me about being in prison. Both have hopefully turned their lives around, but both have vivid memories of being shackled.

      June 2, 2011 at 7:38 pm |
    • Ellen

      I remember when it was a big deal that John F. Kennedy was the first Catholic president. Now I've lived to see the first Black president. Perhaps it is time to realize that America is richly diverse, with leaders who are not defined by their religion or color, but by their capacity to serve America. Mormonism is one of the largest Christian denominations in America, and ought not to be defined by the anti-Mormon fears that have been repeated since the 19th century. Joseph Smith has been dead for 170 years; the Mormon Church does not practice polygamy or teach that Blacks are cursed, and the Church does not take positions regarding candidates for political office or tell people how to vote. If it did, Harry Reid and Orrin Hatch would be sitting on the same side of the aisle. It's time to move into 2011 and give up old prejudices.

      June 2, 2011 at 7:48 pm |
    • Second

      Ellen has summed the issue succinctly and clearly. Ditto.

      June 2, 2011 at 8:25 pm |
  15. Really?

    People, grow up. When will you learn that a politician's religion is not really relevant unless he's planning to make his particular slant mandatory for us all. Which Romney is not..nor is any other candidate past or present. Get over yourselves.

    June 2, 2011 at 7:21 pm |
    • Apeman

      Are you joking? no abortion, no smoking pot, no stem cell research, no welfare? You are a moron

      June 2, 2011 at 7:23 pm |
    • HMAN

      religion shouldnt matter but because religion is part of a persons lives, and a strong factor in their views, it will influence any decision the person makes, so religion does matter. there are however a few exceptions to that general rule.

      June 2, 2011 at 7:28 pm |
    • msadr

      If you really think about it, the politicians religion is the foundation on which they base their decisions. Everything from moral judgements to social strategies is influenced by a person's religious beliefs. So, REALLY, the one thing that matters, above all else, is the politicians religion.

      June 2, 2011 at 7:29 pm |
    • Really?

      Well, you're certainly welcome to keep smoking pot, (I agree with you on your points) but my point was that which religion the President is is meaningless. It's not HIS religion that matters... it's the right wing ultra conservative agenda of our state legislators that is driving the conversation. And it has nothing to do with what flavor the president favors. The state legislators are the problem....how about reframing the question from "is America ready for a Mormon?" to "can America continue to tolerate the ultra right wingnuts setting the agenda for us all?"

      June 2, 2011 at 7:32 pm |
  16. Tim Covy

    No, we don't need a member of a cult to lead this country. The historical "proof" of the Mormon religion has been so disproven it has become a joke and the subject of a "South Park" episode and a hit Broadway play, both of which point out the ridiculous and illogical history of the Mormon religion.

    June 2, 2011 at 7:20 pm |
    • cul8rv8

      So I assume then that you are apposed to our Senate Majority Leader as well, right?

      June 2, 2011 at 7:27 pm |
    • KM

      Christianity is wildly contradictory, as are all religions. I doubt I'll live to see the day this country starts electing grounded, agnostic/atheist leaders.

      June 2, 2011 at 7:43 pm |
    • Bob Cali

      To Tim Covy: if you knew anything you would know that the creators of South Park went to school with, were friends with, and respect Mormons. No topic or high visibilty person or things are out of bounds for them.

      June 2, 2011 at 8:45 pm |
  17. Falcon

    Is CNN ready for a Republican president ?..that is the real question.

    June 2, 2011 at 7:20 pm |
  18. Apeman

    Palin attacked him today, the GOP is splintered, fractured and in chaos. None of them have any integrity. The vocal uneducated gullible biblethumpers will not persuade the mostly intelligent middle class. These running clowns couldn't beat a deadman in 2012.

    June 2, 2011 at 7:19 pm |
    • KM

      and all this internal bickering of the GOP is likely to re-elect Obama, correct?

      IMO, Obama would've never won had John McCain picked a REAL running mate instead of a joke intended to turn people away from the GOP.

      June 2, 2011 at 7:46 pm |
  19. Falcon

    Question: is America ready for a Jewish President?

    June 2, 2011 at 7:18 pm |
    • mickey1313

      what america needs in a secular athiest president. That would be the first step in stopping all this thestic nonsence

      June 2, 2011 at 7:22 pm |
    • pg

      would he/she bring some fiscal responsibility? then yes.

      June 2, 2011 at 7:30 pm |
    • someone

      I'd like to believe so, but unlikely, anti-semetism is still ingrained in western society, which is just a sad truth

      June 2, 2011 at 7:41 pm |
    • KM

      I prefer agnostic over atheist. At least agnostics don't include the absolute arrogance of claiming they KNOW there is no higher power. Agnostics are more likely to be comfortable without absolutes.

      June 2, 2011 at 7:49 pm |
  20. Krow

    A cult member President with magic underwear ... yeah, we're so ready for that.

    June 2, 2011 at 7:17 pm |
    • JSS

      Cult? No. Magical underwear? I wish. Sadly, only a symbolic garment, but I got to tell you, I'm seamless w/o having to wear a thong. It's so nice.

      June 2, 2011 at 7:38 pm |
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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.