home
RSS
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. David

    THey still have in their church books passages that describe blackness as a curse, and that black people skin color was passed down from the mark of cain. EVERY Mormon missionary I talk to insists that this at least "might have been" true and that I should pray on it. AS IF I need to pray that racism is true. This racist garbage came out of Baptists and Methodists before Mormonism even started. The KKK and Mormons are the only group that still preaches this racism.

    So until the Mormon church LDS or whatever it's called removes those passages and apologizes (like the Baptists did), then never will a Mormon be accepted as a leader of this country.

    Black people did not come from a mark on cain, nor did Native Americans get their dark skin from a curse on Jews. Take that racism somewhere else Mitt Romney, we don't want it, and for that reason we don't want you as a president.

    June 2, 2011 at 7:55 pm |
    • Mark from Middle River

      http://www.blacklds.org/

      Seems that there are black Mormons.... or do you look upon them the same as Black Republicans or Black Confederates ..

      June 2, 2011 at 7:58 pm |
    • Kathy

      leave the country

      June 2, 2011 at 8:02 pm |
    • slick

      Do you think Romney is any more a racist than Barak Hussein Obama or Eric Holder

      June 2, 2011 at 8:08 pm |
    • Common Sense

      If you really want to know what Mormons are about, go visit a Mormon church on any Sunday. Their churches have a sign posted on the outside saying that "visitors are welcome." The door is wide open. So if you're open-minded, go experience it for yourself. It seems to me that that's a better, more reliable and reasoned method than blindly heeding the bigoted comments posted in this thread. And by the way, I'm a Christian and want what's best for this country. If an atheist is the best leader running for office, and that atheist will do the most to further our economic and geopolitical interests, I'll vote for him/her. I want the best person for the job, regardless of religious background.

      June 3, 2011 at 1:41 am |
    • Davey

      All of you have missed the point. David is not saying that there are no black Mormons. Its obvious that some have chosen to be part of a church that views their skin color as a curse. No is he saying that blacks are not welcome or any other visitors. His point is that the church has a well established doctrine with regards to race...something that no other Christian denomination has.Are there racist and prejudiced people in every denomination? Ofcourse. But its not founded on a particular doctrine . The LDS church went as far as denying blacks the priesthood for much of its existence for that reason.It was only changed because someone received a " new revelation". Apparently God changed His mind, and it took Him a long time to do so according to the LDS.

      June 3, 2011 at 9:00 am |
  2. YBP

    I'm not ready for a Mormon anything. They are addicted to some really off-the-wall brand of Kool-Aid! Look into it. It's not a joke.

    Plus the whole Prop 8 debacle that is currently being remedied, was entirely un-American, unethical and unjust. It just goes to show how powerful and ruthless an evil cult can be.

    June 2, 2011 at 7:54 pm |
    • Kathy

      don't forget they wear special underwear. People who wear underwear are just plain up to no good I tell you!

      June 2, 2011 at 8:06 pm |
  3. McGuffin

    This candidate's too black, this candidate's too Mormon, this candidate's too smart *ahem* elitist..... Do any Republicans pick candidates based on their platform, or is this just an exercise in prejudice?

    June 2, 2011 at 7:52 pm |
    • Kathy

      Kinda like all the black peeps coming out to vote for the black guy. Ahem.....

      June 2, 2011 at 7:54 pm |
    • Mark from Middle River

      I remember the Dems in the African American community recently state that Obama is not "black" enough ...

      Seems that such can be found on both sides of the political spectrum 🙂

      June 2, 2011 at 7:55 pm |
    • David

      Black people voted for the better choice, maybe more of the white people need to be more TRULY open minded.

      June 2, 2011 at 7:56 pm |
    • Kathy

      David, yeah, that's EXACTLY what happened, my naive friend.... sigh..... have fun under your rock.

      June 2, 2011 at 7:59 pm |
  4. Karim

    No we're not ready for a Mormon president. Although the vast majority of Mormons are exceptionally wonderful people, the religion itself is a big fabrication in my opinion, what's that you say? Jesus walked the Americas they say, God painted people black to punish them, etc.. etc... So no thank you, we need a secular president.

    June 2, 2011 at 7:50 pm |
    • Kathy

      racist.

      June 2, 2011 at 7:51 pm |
    • Mr. Per Spective

      Really? But you're ok with the "burning bush" and the parting of the red sea to name a few? Do yourself a favor and find some true perspective!

      June 2, 2011 at 7:55 pm |
    • Realist

      What's the difference? All religions are just fabrications of one sort or another, it seems silly to point at one and call foul without pointing to all.

      June 2, 2011 at 7:55 pm |
    • Oh the land of the dumb

      @Mr. Per Spective......look up the word "secular"
      @Kathy....what is racist? Saying that "all" black peeps voted for Obama is racist.

      June 2, 2011 at 8:03 pm |
  5. Woodtip

    Absolutely NOT!

    Mormon = Religious Cult

    Anyone that denies it has either been sucked in or has not read about their faith. It is all about CONTROL about you and your money. If you think I'm wrong.... you are either sending them $$$ already OR you have not educated yourself about it.

    I WILL NOT VOTE FOR ROMNEY BECAUSE HE IS MORMON.

    June 2, 2011 at 7:50 pm |
    • Kathy

      I will not vote for OBAMA because he is BLACK

      June 2, 2011 at 7:52 pm |
    • Mark from Middle River

      See a few pages back some one said that only those who are Religious make such claims that they alone are right and everyone else is dead wrong.

      Interesting how the ends of view points always seem to echo each other. 🙂

      June 2, 2011 at 7:53 pm |
    • Mark from Middle River

      LOL ...Kathy.... just vote for the white half of him then 😀

      June 2, 2011 at 7:53 pm |
    • Mr. Per Spective

      hahahaha! You won't vote for him anyway because you are most likley a dem trying to demonize a good man that you know very little about. Good for you!

      June 2, 2011 at 8:00 pm |
  6. Ernesto

    This is a religion that will not allow rational thought to operate, Check out the basis for their thinking:

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hcyzkd_m6KE&w=640&h=360]

    June 2, 2011 at 7:50 pm |
    • SurRy

      No religion is based on being rational. They are all made up stories.

      June 2, 2011 at 7:55 pm |
    • Fordham Jock

      Fascinating. Thanks for posting this ! It's a bit long, but very worth watching.

      June 2, 2011 at 8:42 pm |
  7. Layla

    ANYBODY but Obama.

    June 2, 2011 at 7:50 pm |
  8. jv

    Look at how utah blurs church and state and viciously stomps on personal freedom experience and expression at every turn. We must protect America from the "mormon mindset"

    June 2, 2011 at 7:49 pm |
    • Layla

      Right now, I think most people think the current administration and Congress are our biggest threats.

      June 2, 2011 at 7:51 pm |
    • realistic

      Nah, I've always wanted to pay $20 for a six pack of beer that I had to leave work an hour early to buy since the liquor stores close at 5 PM.

      June 2, 2011 at 8:01 pm |
  9. Kathleen

    NO...NOT ready, never will be. They tried that back in the 1800's and lost out. I'm glad.

    June 2, 2011 at 7:49 pm |
  10. bob

    BIG LOVE!!!!!!!!!!! Creepy....

    June 2, 2011 at 7:49 pm |
    • Kathy

      FICTION>

      Please spare us and don't vote

      June 2, 2011 at 7:53 pm |
    • Kathy

      Romney is to big love like Barry is to OJ.

      June 2, 2011 at 7:57 pm |
    • Oh the land of the dumb

      No Kathy YOU DONT VOTE! I bet you thought Bush was a great Prez too. Right now there is somoene of color in the world who is protecting your freedom but the sad thing is you think you are better than them simply because you are white. God save your soul.

      June 2, 2011 at 8:09 pm |
    • Kathy

      oh the land of the dumb–spare me. He's not protecting ANYONE and is only DRIVING THIS COUNTRY INTO THE HOLE. We'll all be a ghetto by the time he's done with us! God help the United States of America.

      June 2, 2011 at 8:13 pm |
  11. SurRy

    Why not? We've already had 8 years with a moron for president.

    June 2, 2011 at 7:48 pm |
    • michael smith

      You're an idiot.

      June 2, 2011 at 7:50 pm |
    • SurRy

      Michael Smith. Any relation to Joseph?

      June 2, 2011 at 8:04 pm |
  12. Natalie N.

    The "Obama Factor" will kick Mitten's butt! Bring it on!!

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

      Yup, The Obama factor. All the black people will come out to vote and then go back to whining about how they are oppressed...

      June 2, 2011 at 7:50 pm |
  13. rinsac

    NOT as long as that Church promotes and supports the taking of the civil and human rights of others. But just wait. For years they discriminated against people of color. Then when they saw the advantages of letting in Africans the Prophet suddenly had a vision that it was all right now. Don't be surprised if the same thing happens with other groups down the road if they sense some advantage in it for themselves. I for one won't wait..........and wouldn't accept their acceptance if offered. Wall off Utah and move them all to their Zion and they can do what they please there and leave the rest of us alone.

    June 2, 2011 at 7:48 pm |
    • Mark from Middle River

      Wow...that sounds pretty Final Solution there Der Führer. 🙂

      June 2, 2011 at 7:50 pm |
  14. slick

    A Mormon pres would be a h.ell of a lot better than the mooslim pres we have now

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

      You are an idiot...

      June 2, 2011 at 7:49 pm |
    • realistic

      mooslim? that some sort of cow religion?

      you really take the retard cake.

      June 2, 2011 at 7:52 pm |
    • slick

      Latrey , realistic
      isn't a mooslim what you libs call a folower of Islam

      June 2, 2011 at 7:58 pm |
    • standingwave

      No slick,we call them Muslims.Just like we call your kind morons.

      June 2, 2011 at 8:52 pm |
  15. Kathy

    the MORMON vs. the KENYAN

    June 2, 2011 at 7:47 pm |
  16. Metallic Dinosaur

    I personally don't care if he is Mormon or not, it can't be any worse that what we currently have in the White House.

    June 2, 2011 at 7:47 pm |
    • rinsac

      YES, by leaps and bounds!!!!

      June 2, 2011 at 7:49 pm |
    • Tropical Sunshine

      You are both idiots. When will we be free of ignorant insanity like yours?

      June 2, 2011 at 7:55 pm |
  17. The_Mick

    It's ready for a Mormon president, but the GOP isn't: the far-right religious, low-educated, members of the GOP don't see anyone outside of WASPs as true Americans and I'm afraid they've got too much influence to allow Democracy to flourish.

    June 2, 2011 at 7:46 pm |
    • Kathy

      THIS RIGHT WING REPUBLICAN HAS TWO MASTER'S DEGREES. Who's uneducated???

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

      The far-right religious, low-educated, members of the GOP would elect the local dog catcher over the Kenyan a_ss that we have now.

      June 2, 2011 at 7:52 pm |
    • realistic

      slick: case in point.

      June 2, 2011 at 7:56 pm |
    • Tropical Sunshine

      Kathy, anyone who boasts of being a right-wing republican is by definition stupid no matter how many degrees they have.

      June 2, 2011 at 7:56 pm |
    • Kathy

      Tropical Sunshine, don't be jealous of me. If you go back to college, you can become educated like me. Don't be a hater!

      June 2, 2011 at 8:08 pm |
    • RKen

      @Kathy: You don't do much to serve your point by yelling in caps at someone over an internet post, and boasting about the degrees you have, to prove you're educated.

      Simply having a masters or even a PhD doesn't automatically make you intelligent either, I've seen and worked with PhDs that have the common sense of a fifth grader. Likewise, I've seen and worked with college dropouts that are just as if not more composed, reasonable, intelligent, and capable as PhDs.

      Point being, you can have two master's degress and still be an idiot.

      June 2, 2011 at 8:10 pm |
  18. realistic

    Also, anyone familiar with Utah's liquor laws.... yikes, this guy IS SCARY!!

    June 2, 2011 at 7:46 pm |
    • jess

      What does Mitt Romney have to do with Utah liquor laws? He governed Massachusetts, not Utah. He is not even from Utah.

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

      I'm aware... but if a law is from Utah I consider it a Mormon law as much as a state law... besides, its a joke... thought the 3 exclamation marks thing would make that apparent...

      June 2, 2011 at 7:51 pm |
    • sam

      Anything from Utah is a Mormon law? Seriously? My you seem like a bright one, good thing we have people like you to vote in our country.

      June 2, 2011 at 9:15 pm |
  19. Monogamist

    Wow! Black people featured on the LDS website! What a revelation. Well, not really.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_people_and_the_Latter_Day_Saint_movement

    June 2, 2011 at 7:46 pm |
  20. God

    Is Obama converting to Mormonism? If so, then the answer is, "yes."

    June 2, 2011 at 7:45 pm |
    • David

      When the LDS church finally endorses interracial marriage, instead of saying things like THIS:

      From the Aaronic Priesthood Manual:
      “Lesson 31: Choosing an Eternal Companion,” Aaronic Priesthood Manual 3, 127
      "We recommend that people marry those who are of the same racial background generally, and of somewhat the same economic and social and educational background."

      Then we can say "yes"

      June 2, 2011 at 8:03 pm |
    • God

      I do not disagree with you, my son. But my point was that it does not matter whether Mitt Romney is Mormon, Hindu or Presbyterian, he's going to get his head handed to him next November. Obama's unlikely conversion is the only way that America will be ready for a Mormon president in 2012.

      June 2, 2011 at 8:18 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63
Advertisement
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.