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. gda

    I could care less about his religion because I care most about the United States of America! If Romney has the best skills, judgement and talent to put our country back on top - he has my vote. The rest of the double talk is plain GARBAGE! We sure can't go another 4 years with the socialists we now have or there will no country to save.

    June 2, 2011 at 4:10 pm |
    • sara

      You will have another "socialist"...... THE Romneycare Guy! Fool

      June 2, 2011 at 4:14 pm |
  2. Milton

    Better Romney than empty headed Palin.

    June 2, 2011 at 4:09 pm |
    • Jerusha

      Better neither of them.

      June 2, 2011 at 5:16 pm |
  3. markls

    Its like asking if Tom Cruise can be president of the United States. Do we really want a celebrity whose only claim to fame is his brain washing cult to lead the USA? I think not.

    June 2, 2011 at 4:09 pm |
    • guest

      I highly doubt somebody has been brainwashed that can earn a Harvard graduate degree. How many Mormons do you think you know versus how many you actually know and couldn't tell because they are normal, upstanding citizens?

      June 2, 2011 at 5:26 pm |
  4. ian

    Here comes CNN's smear campaign for any Republican that is going to run. They did it to Palin, Trump, Gingrich now Romney.

    June 2, 2011 at 4:07 pm |
    • sara

      "smear"? His is a Mormon or NOT!

      June 2, 2011 at 4:11 pm |
    • JohnR

      All you have to do to sabatoge Gingrich, Palin and Trump is give them a microphone to babble into. Romney won't get my vote, but he at least seems reasonably normal and will look better and better the more he stands next to any of those three.

      June 2, 2011 at 4:11 pm |
    • Jerusha

      Thank You CNN for the intelligence behind your reporting.

      June 2, 2011 at 5:18 pm |
  5. denim

    Mormon is not the issue. Ability to stand by his word is the issue. Massachusetts knows he can't do that, since he's been seen to do 180s on his position in a period of minutes to days.

    June 2, 2011 at 4:07 pm |
    • sara

      We KNOW he is a Muslim..oops, Mormon. But we don't know if he is Mitt today or someone else tomorrow. He can't be trusted.

      June 2, 2011 at 4:12 pm |
  6. Stuart

    The rest of the country should be concerned. I live here in Utah, a state ruled by Republican Mormans. They rule with an iron fist, and state government aka "the church" is directly involved in all matters of life. From education funding, to liquor laws, to immigration issues, to civil rights for the GLBT community – our local law makers look to the local church before making a decision.

    June 2, 2011 at 4:05 pm |
    • kris

      ...and you live in Utah why? It is well known that Mormons established the state, if you don't want to be around them move.

      June 2, 2011 at 4:08 pm |
    • Deanosaur

      I think the point here is that Mormons have a long detailed and well-docu-mented history of violating the First Amendment, just like busy-bodies from other cults. The Catholic Church also violates the First Amendment all the time.
      Are you an American first or a religious puke? I follow the law. Religious people do not, on average, respect the law.

      June 2, 2011 at 4:53 pm |
    • Jon

      You sir, are a moron.

      June 2, 2011 at 5:41 pm |
    • Terrabb

      Crazy, sttate governments should represent the people of their state. By the way the government in Utah acts you would think the majority of the state was Mormons.

      June 2, 2011 at 5:41 pm |
  7. Richard

    Can you stop asking whether Americans are "ready" for a candidate with "QUALITY X" (woman, gay, mormon, etc.)? It's derogatory.

    Why don't you focus on their policy platforms instead of focusing on irrelevant personal characteristics for once?

    June 2, 2011 at 4:05 pm |
    • SeanNJ

      If your personal characteristics influence your policy, then nothing is irrelevant.

      June 2, 2011 at 4:18 pm |
  8. Pilfer

    Most religion is scary. His is frightening. I not only will not vote for him but I will leave the country if he wins.

    June 2, 2011 at 4:05 pm |
    • guest

      good ridance

      June 2, 2011 at 5:27 pm |
    • DP - Mormon

      People are only scared of things they don't understand. Maybe you should try to find out more instead of talking about things you don't have a clue about.

      June 2, 2011 at 8:34 pm |
    • S.

      Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are a people of many nationalities, cultures, and backgrounds. http://mormon.org/me/3QV2 check out this link to see for yourself! If you decided to leave the country chances are you'll be in an area with LDS presence. 🙂

      June 2, 2011 at 10:59 pm |
  9. programmergirl

    Romney, as a Republican and a Mormon, will never get my vote. Mormons are elitists; if you're not one of them, you basically don't exist. Look at the state of Utah: you can't do ANYTHING on Sundays .... because the Mormons don't allow it. If Romney were elected, the whole damned country would be that way. NO THANKS!

    June 2, 2011 at 4:05 pm |
    • kris

      ...yeah I am sure if Romney were president he would require everyone to stay home on Sunday? Is that your point? Really?

      June 2, 2011 at 4:10 pm |
    • John

      You ought to travel or live in Europe. Germany practically shuts down on Sundays. In rural Germany only the gas stations are open. Scandinavia is the same thing. Is this a bad thing?

      June 2, 2011 at 4:13 pm |
    • Emy

      Not sure what you're talking about.... I lived in Utah for 10 years, wasn't an active Mormon, and could do just about anything I wanted to on Sundays.

      Maybe research your topic before you start talking about things you know nothing about?

      June 2, 2011 at 4:21 pm |
    • Jon

      Your ignorance is astounding.

      June 2, 2011 at 5:43 pm |
    • Lin

      Italy, too. No grocery stores open, very few restaurants. People take the day off.

      June 2, 2011 at 7:12 pm |
    • Melia

      Keep the Sabath day holy is one of the 10 comandment and used to be punishable by death. I don't think that is the case in Utah. There is nothing wrong with the people wanting to keep the comandments of God. They shouldn't have to work just to sever those that mock them for their beliefs. Having lived in Utah I must tell you that it was difficult to find a job in retail that didn't require you to work on Sundays. So if you can't do anything on Sundays it is because you choose not too.

      June 6, 2011 at 6:41 pm |
  10. ashlee

    wow, we really haven't come all that far in religous freedom! I can not believe all the uneducated bigots commenting. You might want to educated yourselfs on ones religion before bashing it. Mormons are Christians, they believe the Bible, and the "Magic underwear" is simply religious clothing worn underneath thier cloths rather than on top like Muslims. Get over it people and grow a freaking brain! And to all you Az Mormon haters, watch out we are coming for you..........(evil laugh ) you really are so, never mind!

    June 2, 2011 at 4:03 pm |
    • Fidei Coticula Crux

      Mormons are not Christians. When you compare the key person or founder, date, location; key writings; who is God; who is Jesus; who is the Holy Spirit; how to be saved (salvation); what happens after death; and other facts, beliefs, or practices you will learn why Mormonism is deem a cult and not part of the Christian faith.

      June 2, 2011 at 4:57 pm |
    • Terrabb

      @Fidei Coticula Crux
      Mormons are not Christians. When you compare the key person or founder, date, location; key writings; who is God; who is Jesus; who is the Holy Spirit; how to be saved (salvation); what happens after death; and other facts, beliefs, or practices you will learn why Mormonism is deem a cult and not part of the Christian faith.
      Let's see. Mormons believe their church (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) to be a continuation of the Church Jesus established during his mortal ministry, Joseph Smith simply (although it was not simple) restored the church in these latter days. Mormons "believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost." Please do some more research before making false claims.

      June 2, 2011 at 5:50 pm |
    • Davey

      Mormons are not Christians. They do not even believe the Bible to be the infallible Word of God. They do not believe the Bible was translated correctly therefore relying on the Book of Mormon. They have unsound doctrine towards people of different races and those their Prophet" received a new revelation that blacks could hold the priesthood, it is contrary to Christ's teaching with having no respect of persons.The believe Native Americans are lost Jews, not to mention alot more. No, in the literal sense they are not Christians. You are required to believe in the prophet Joseph Smith. In Christianity, salvation is not obtained through the belief of a mortal man.

      June 2, 2011 at 7:07 pm |
    • Lin

      Davey, Mormons believe that it is ONLY through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, that we can be saved. I thought that was what defined a Christian. We do believe Joseph Smith was a prophet, just like Moses, Noah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Abraham, etc. were prophets whose job was to teach about God and Jesus Christ. The purpose of the Book of Mormon is to testify of Christ and support the teachings of the Bible, not to replace the Bible.

      June 2, 2011 at 7:32 pm |
    • Tree

      Mormons don't believe in the bible? Sounds like they are on the right path to me. The bible is the most ridiculous story ever.

      June 2, 2011 at 11:16 pm |
  11. jess

    Wow it is incredibly disappointing to see how many ignorant people there are out there. The Mormons I have known are nice, honest, and very family centered people. Who cares if what Mormons believe doesn't match up with your beliefs? Get over it. At least they practice some self control in their religion which is more that can be said for the majority of Americans. Try being respectful of what other people believe rather than mocking it based off of rumors and misconceptions. Romney's religion has nothing to do with how he would perform as president, and those of you who think it would are part of the problem in this country.

    June 2, 2011 at 4:02 pm |
    • Mormons Are First Century Christians

      11 of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were non-Trinitarian Christians. Those who insist on their narrow definition of Christianity are doing our Republic an injustice.

      June 2, 2011 at 6:30 pm |
  12. State of Tennessee

    A guy with experience as both a governor and as a businessman who doesn't need to spend millions hiding his past! That would be quite an improvement over the national embarrassment that is currently residing in the Whitehouse. Of course, my nine year old mixed breed dog would also be a vast improvement.

    June 2, 2011 at 4:02 pm |
    • guest

      I second that...including the dog for president!

      June 2, 2011 at 5:30 pm |
  13. darrel

    The way the LDS church "council" stick's it nose in everything and feel that they should dictate to everyone how they will live I'd sooner vote for Mickey Mouse. MR runs, BO wins.

    June 2, 2011 at 4:02 pm |
  14. Are you kidding me?

    Showing my age a little here, but I remember when I was younger; people were asking were asking if America was ready for a Catholic president referring to Kennedy. With all of the issues we have going, why in the world would we be discussing someone’s religion?

    Where is the hatred coming from? Yes Mormons may see the world a little different, but is that affecting you so much that you need to tell the world your feelings for them? I don't know many, but the ones I know seem like normal upstanding folks.

    Let's get back to discussing the real issues like gas prices, jobs and cost of food.

    June 2, 2011 at 4:01 pm |
    • darrel

      I know a huge number of them and as individuals they are usually good people, people are people after all, but they are as a religious organization to be watched and carefully kept at arms distance. I rember kennedy and the Catholic Church for all it's faults usually keeps it's actions centered on Church. At least since the 17th century.

      June 2, 2011 at 4:04 pm |
  15. JLB

    I admire Mitt Romney, no matter what his religious affiliation is. At least he has morals and a good business sense. Obama is a disgrace to the American people, and his actions are like a dictator.

    June 2, 2011 at 4:00 pm |
    • San

      Please detail the dictator thing. I'd like to hear more. Thanks

      June 2, 2011 at 9:03 pm |
  16. Larry L

    I have trouble with all forms of mythology, including Christian, Muslims, and the Mormons. I believe the Mormons finally decided to consider people of African decent human being (around 1975) because BYU was unable to recruit with that baggage. Seriously, the Mormon lifestyle with huge families and people blindly following the Church's directives is sort of cult-like. Regarding Romney, I've got real reasons not to vote for him – not his religion.

    June 2, 2011 at 3:58 pm |
    • S.

      Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints come from many nationalities, cultures, and backgrounds check this link out for yourself: http://mormon.org/me/3QV2 In fact, there are more members outside of the United States than inside!

      June 2, 2011 at 11:03 pm |
    • Dano

      BYU unable to recruit? Laughable...there will ALWAYS be LDS kids that want to go to BYU.

      June 3, 2011 at 12:20 am |
  17. skeeter

    Honestly, the people that think a particular religion matters are a dying breed. Funny how every small AND large group claims to have had the biggest impact on an election. With our sham government, it doesn't matter anyway.

    June 2, 2011 at 3:56 pm |
  18. DrewL

    The answer to the Mormon question lies with the right wing Christian fundamentalists. They are the ones who traditionally have had a problem with the LDS church. Will they support a Mormon candidate, even one who is a Republican? Hard to say. I certainly don't think they'll turn out in droves to support Romney, that's for sure. Romney's equally challenging issue is health care. He's going to try to spin his MA healthcare law as a states' rights issue, but that's a stretch, at best. He's really trying to turn an apple into an orange when everyone can see plainly that it's an apple. Good luck with that approach.

    June 2, 2011 at 3:52 pm |
  19. kdl

    mike, please stop the tired stupid "christian" vs "mormon" comments. You obviously don't know anything about mormonism. Mormons believe in the Bible and also the Book of Mormon. More than 50% of every verse from every page of the Book of Mormon refers to Christ. Open an LDS hymn book and see what the songs say. If you think Mormons aren't Christians then you don't know what a Christian is.

    June 2, 2011 at 3:52 pm |
    • markls

      Well Mormons also believe that their leader is the brother of Jesus Christ. I can count how many other cults believes they are in some way shape or form related to Jesus Christ. Sorry just because you steal from the bible don't make you legit. A cult once, a cult always.

      June 2, 2011 at 4:10 pm |
    • Arthur

      You mean hymns like Praise to the Man where you sing the praises of Joseph Smith? Or hymns like Hie To Kolob about the imaginary planet that God lives on? Mormonism always embraced its differences from Christianity until it became a political liability, now mormons trip over themselves to try to play down the enormous differences.

      June 2, 2011 at 4:11 pm |
    • Fidei Coticula Crux

      Mormons are not Christians. When you compare the key person or founder, date, location; key writings; who is God; who is Jesus; who is the Holy Spirit; how to be saved; what happens after death; and, other beliefs and practices you will learn why Mormonism is deem a cult and not part of the Christian faith.

      June 2, 2011 at 5:06 pm |
    • Dano


      Mormons don't believe that the prophet is the brother of Jesus Christ. Do a little research.

      June 3, 2011 at 12:22 am |
  20. shades

    Romney isnt strong enogh to fight the liberal main sream ridiculites.....

    at this time only Palin stands a chance..shes a mad camper that takes no prisoners

    June 2, 2011 at 3:51 pm |
    • Not All Docs Play Golf

      You should leave your brain to science, so humans can decipher how the right wing brain works. It sure is a mystery.

      June 2, 2011 at 4:05 pm |
    • PrettyAngel

      palin does not stand a chance as much as Trump does. Why would anyone vote for Palin, when she could not even finish her term as Govenor in Alaska. What known president has ever starred in a reality show. That palin family is all about money and power. I just wish those hillbillies would go back to Alaska and stay under the rock that they crawled from. America ready for a Mormomn President, get real we weren't ready for a Black president, because he has had to work harder than any president in history to prove that he was born and made in the USA. This is such a hateful country and I'm sure that voters will do everything to put a corrupt republican in the office.

      June 2, 2011 at 4:14 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.