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. slick

    Do any of you libs actually think that Obama will be re-elected?
    The economy is headed back to the crapper, unemployment is sky high, gas prices are through the roof, food prices are going up, the 'Arab Spring' is turning to poop. Obama is a one term prez.
    You libs had better get used to the idea of our next president being from the FAR RIGHT

    June 2, 2011 at 8:40 pm |
    • John D

      I got news for you "not so slick"...independents HATE the far right. An in case your unaware, which way the independent vote swings is what turns the tide in Presidential elections. Don't believe me that the people from the middle hate the far right? OK, then please explain to me why 65% of independents DISAPPROVE of the patron saint of the right, Sarah Palin?

      Go ahead, let her win the GOP primary...and you will be gift wrapping a second term for Obama. The FAR (as in so far they've fallen off the end of the Earth) right has become the National GOP's worst enemy, and the Dem's best friends.

      June 2, 2011 at 9:02 pm |
    • slick

      John D,
      65% of independants disapprove of Palin because the LIBERAL media (cnn, cbs, nbc, abc, etc.) have ALMOST destroyed her. They don't care if she is capable of doing the job they just hate her, so they make her out to be some sort of bimbo. As I am sure you know John, when people hear the same thing over and over and over they start to believe it.

      June 2, 2011 at 9:16 pm |
  2. Carlos Enrique Queso aka Chuck E. Cheese

    the problem will not be his religion, but the fact that he's not extreme enough.

    A gay sympathizer in favor of gay marriage. Not in the age of Gingrich, Bachman and Palin

    June 2, 2011 at 8:39 pm |
    • Mark from Middle River

      Carlos, what has the Obama and the Democrats done for the Gay community in their years. You can't count the repeal of "Don't Ask Don't tell" because that was a Republican effort to over turn it.

      Obama had both houses of congress and left the Gay and Lesbians out to dry.

      June 2, 2011 at 8:44 pm |
  3. Aerocog

    We're ready as we'll ever be, Mormons have few odd beliefs but overall are just as Christian as a Bapist or Methodist.

    June 2, 2011 at 8:38 pm |
  4. rdw


    You can make the same argument about some white people (aka Teaparty), the reason why they voted for McCain & Sarah Palin back in 2008, is because of the simple fact they were white.

    June 2, 2011 at 8:38 pm |
  5. joann

    Knowing,the Mormoms believe Jesus Christ and the Devil,are brothers.And,how they believe doing work for the dead,and don't forget thier magic underwear.A Mormom as President,NO WAY. JoAnn

    June 2, 2011 at 8:38 pm |
  6. jack byron

    voting for a mormon is like voting for a muslim.. there're both cults.. there's nothing christian about them...

    June 2, 2011 at 8:35 pm |
    • purnellmeagrejr

      There's nothing Christian about Christianity, either if you'd think about it..

      June 2, 2011 at 8:37 pm |
    • That guy

      Thats the spirit of freedom right there. Way to NOT support what our country is founded on and be arrogant. Just a thought.. "any god that hates the same people you do, is man made" maybe you should think about that before judging people when its not your job. As long as he does his JOB. I could care less what the man believes. I just want a steady safe economy for my children. Not a war zone.

      June 2, 2011 at 8:38 pm |
    • John D

      "Thou shalt not judge"

      And you being judgmental of two faiths you clearly no nothing about is SOOO Christian???

      June 2, 2011 at 9:06 pm |
    • Diane

      There seems to be nothing Christian about you either Jack.

      June 4, 2011 at 1:30 pm |
  7. Peter E

    I DON'T CARE what his religion is! For all I care, he can be a Voodoo worshiper or even, gasp, an atheist! Just as long as he keeps his religion out of public policy and does the job he was actually elected for, his religion should be a NON-issue!
    But then again, thanks to the mass media we are told ONLY such trivialities matter. Forget the economy, forget health care, forget any and all issues that would ACTUALLY affect us as voters.

    June 2, 2011 at 8:34 pm |
    • Mark from Middle River

      >>>"all issues that would ACTUALLY affect us as voters."

      Peter, what voters want is not the same for each person. What you see as important may not be universal with everyone in society. Every move in government is what some group or party wants.

      June 2, 2011 at 8:37 pm |
    • burns

      A person's religious beliefs are an excellent way to judge their rationality. And frankly, if you don't want every single relationship in your life judged.... don't run for president, just don't, it's that simple. By the way... his religion is a non-issue? Didn't George Bush TALK TO GOD when he decided to move into Iraq? Honestly if Obama was given to the divine you guys would probably be at War with Venuzuela. Frankly I think being religious should disqualify people from running.

      June 2, 2011 at 8:45 pm |
  8. Doc Vestibule

    @Tal Blevins
    I am not, though I am curious as to what would make you think so...
    Perhaps my only other digital footprints are a seldom visited myspace page, highlighting minimally talented bits of musical masturbation and sporadic contributions to a fansite for a particular brand of Les Paul knockoff.

    June 2, 2011 at 8:33 pm |
  9. slick

    Why is everyone getting so worked up about Romney anyway?? We all know Sarah Palin is going to be our next prez. She is the only one out there with the b_alls to stand up to all of you libs and get this country back on track.

    June 2, 2011 at 8:33 pm |
    • jefffbo

      Sarah Palin as president ? LOL !

      June 2, 2011 at 8:34 pm |
    • John Mustard

      Sarah Palin as president ? LOL !

      June 2, 2011 at 8:37 pm |
    • slick

      Yes! LOL............

      June 2, 2011 at 8:41 pm |
    • burns

      Please be a joke. I don't know if Palin knows where Canada is.

      June 2, 2011 at 8:51 pm |
  10. Catherine Siegel

    Insanity, pure insanity. Mormons are nutso.

    June 2, 2011 at 8:33 pm |
  11. jefffbo

    America will never be ready for Mitt Romney, he should drop out of the race.

    June 2, 2011 at 8:32 pm |
  12. obamayakyak

    CNN should do a front page story about Obama's religious activity over the last 20 years. Several in depth stories about Rev. Jeremiah Wright and his numerous preachings would be very interesting.

    June 2, 2011 at 8:32 pm |
  13. Akamai Haole

    Of course the country is ready for a Moron president. George W. Bush is a Moron but managed to get elected twice and DESTROY our economy!

    June 2, 2011 at 8:31 pm |
  14. Steve

    We already have an African, Hawaiian, Indonesian, Irish Christian president who was raised Muslim. What would be wrong with having a Mormon President? (BTW, no one openly converts from Islam to Christianity without being hunted down by the Muslim brotherhood. . . so the truth is that we have a Muslim POTUS!)

    June 2, 2011 at 8:31 pm |
    • Howard

      Glad you have your facts straight. Oh wait...

      June 2, 2011 at 8:39 pm |
  15. tallulah13

    Outside of his political affiliations, my biggest problem with Mitt Romney is the fact that he's named after something you use to wash your car. Or catch a baseball.

    June 2, 2011 at 8:31 pm |
  16. Squeaky Voice

    “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.”

    It's the "everything in between" that concerns me. Dimwitted gullible cult followers who have swallowed Joseph Smith's line of crap. Who treat women as second class chattle, discriminate against non-believers, who turn their backs on family members who choose other religions, baptize people in absentia, and all of the other sneaky, wacko wheels off things they do in private. Like believe in "Magic Underwear". Mormons are in no way "normal, everyday Americans". They are practically zombie pod people who've been collectively hypnotized.

    June 2, 2011 at 8:30 pm |
    • 2manyhorses

      Women were not considered by the Catholic church to have souls until the 17th century and still cannot be ordained...your point would be?

      June 2, 2011 at 9:05 pm |
  17. Kent Bowen

    Hard to believe anyone is even asking this question. Shame on CNN.

    June 2, 2011 at 8:29 pm |
  18. matt

    I speak from experience.The mormon church is NO PLACE FOR A DEMOCRAT.

    June 2, 2011 at 8:29 pm |
    • obamayakyak

      I agree. Most national Democrat are agnostic at best and they would find a Christian atmosphere to be offensive.

      June 2, 2011 at 8:35 pm |
    • matt

      I'm christian.I'm an independent really, but the people in the mormon church are ALL conservative republicans.They would let someone go homeless before they would help them even though most make at least 250k yr..

      June 2, 2011 at 8:38 pm |
    • matt

      also, at the same time they spend a RIDICULOUS amount on their temples.Like god cares that the carpet is imported from italy......

      June 2, 2011 at 8:40 pm |
    • Becky

      Harry Reid is a practicing Mormon and Senate Majority Leader.

      June 2, 2011 at 10:20 pm |
  19. Dano

    Actually, I think the better question is "Is America ready for another Republican president?"

    June 2, 2011 at 8:27 pm |
    • Mark from Middle River

      My friend it depends on the independants. Both the Libs and the Cons will declare either yes or no but that pesky middle...

      June 2, 2011 at 8:29 pm |
  20. hotmama

    Sooo, it's ok to vote for Obama because he is black (don't tell me that black people didn't) but descriminate against Romney because he is a Mormon? It seems to me that we should be worried a lot more about economic problems right now and in the future than moral and religious beliefs. If he can fix unemployment, education, ect., ect., he's good enough for me for four years.

    June 2, 2011 at 8:27 pm |
    • Mark from Middle River

      >>> "it's ok to vote for Obama because he is black (don't tell me that black people didn't) "

      I didn't vote for Obama... then again when other African Americans heard this they were ready to revoke my membership in the African American community. 🙂

      June 2, 2011 at 8:30 pm |
    • Kevin

      Have you READ the Book of Mormon?

      June 2, 2011 at 8:32 pm |
    • JW

      I think the people that voted for Obama won't be the same ones that vote for Romney even if he wasn't a Mormon.

      June 2, 2011 at 8:34 pm |
    • matt

      i read the book of mormon.I truly believe in it but the mormons are all stuck up republican a$$h*les.Well, not all but theres enough bad apples in the church to spoil the whole bunch..

      June 2, 2011 at 8:36 pm |
    • Emilio Dumphuque

      Here's your best source for finding out what these whackjobs believe:


      June 2, 2011 at 8:42 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.