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. Ekaterina Kaverina

    Make no mistake, Republicans will gladly vote for a Mormon. You'll see.

    June 2, 2011 at 9:45 pm |
    • Sean

      Oh I hope so. Please please please let them choose him over Palin

      June 2, 2011 at 9:48 pm |
  2. Dingle

    Reading these comments.. I am wondering if America would have ever been founded if these posters lived during the American Revolution. "Freedom of Religion" - No way! God is a fairy tale! Religions have weird traditions like the Sacrament, and different clothing and ceremonies.


    June 2, 2011 at 9:45 pm |
  3. EddyL

    Mormon President? HELL NO!

    June 2, 2011 at 9:45 pm |
    • Dingle

      Acceptance.. tolerance.. respect for others? NO WAY. Let's put labels on people and instantly judge them. Go USA.

      June 2, 2011 at 9:48 pm |
  4. Marcia

    What difference does it make? He's not old-school Mormon with 15 wives. I'd rather have someone who prays to God than someone who doesn't pray at all.

    June 2, 2011 at 9:45 pm |
    • Friend

      Yeah, and he's not an old school Judeo-Christian like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob or countless others who practiced polygamy either. Wait, oops, did I say that out loud? Its okay, that's far enough in the past that we can ignore that it ever happened, right?

      June 2, 2011 at 10:17 pm |
  5. BJ

    Romney's father was Governor of Michigan in the 1960's. Guess what? No one cared that he was a Mormon! Have we become stupider?

    June 2, 2011 at 9:44 pm |
  6. Josie

    Hell why not?!?! We got a muslim in there now!

    June 2, 2011 at 9:44 pm |
    • Sean

      Why hello Josie! How does it feel to lack any intelligence?

      June 2, 2011 at 9:46 pm |
  7. tj

    Has he released his long form birth certificate?

    June 2, 2011 at 9:42 pm |
  8. Bob

    I don't care at all that he is a Mormon. What I care about is that he flip-flops more than Clinton ever did.

    June 2, 2011 at 9:42 pm |
    • milo

      If he flip flops doesn't matter as long as he is American and helps the american people first. Obama was not even born in the USA,his grandma said so and other facts that is known. Obama does not like Israel and gives aid to Mexican cartels, Obama refuses to release his personal college records which state that he received foreign scholarship from Indonesia. I rather be under a Mormon than a radical muslin.

      June 2, 2011 at 9:49 pm |
  9. steve


    June 2, 2011 at 9:42 pm |
  10. Tim

    You've gotta love those Evangelicals who'd rather have an abortion-pushing, religion crushing, gay marriage promoting, Israel deserting liberal running the country than "gasp" a Mormon, whose political believes are the same as theirs.

    June 2, 2011 at 9:41 pm |
    • tj

      But Mitt was pro-abortion before he was pro-life. He was pro-single payer healthcare before he was anti- single payer healthcare. He has always been anti-labor. I'll give you that one.

      June 2, 2011 at 9:46 pm |
    • John D

      I'm sorry, is "Israel deserting" supposed to be a bad thing?

      June 2, 2011 at 9:56 pm |
  11. dave

    I find it interesting that the religious right has so demonized the Mormon faith. The Mormons and the "Christians" are THE two closest groups in America on almost every social and moral issue. In almost every definition of how a "Christian" should act it is so very close to their Mormon brothers....yet so many of the religous right will be caught up in doctrinal concerns rather than banding together with like-minded people. It seems very strange. They should find "common ground" and build bridges between themselves.

    June 2, 2011 at 9:41 pm |
  12. Florida52

    Well, after the joke that Obama has been while in office, I'd vote for Mickey Mouse of that was the only choice other than another term of Mr. I'll spend Trillions of YOUR dollars!

    June 2, 2011 at 9:40 pm |
    • Reasonable

      I would much rather have people like you put into the Presidency so we can watch how quickly you squirm a crumble after the first week or two. Afterwards, I think it'd be cool to take you and all your office-bashing friends and give you your own reality show so we can all laugh at your pathetic hypocrisy. I'm sure you'll still be throwing stones, even after having your life scrutinized by people just like yourself who can all do a better job than you at running the entire country.

      June 2, 2011 at 9:47 pm |
  13. joemama

    why not a mormon? we already have a muslim.

    June 2, 2011 at 9:39 pm |
    • Sean

      Original comment there joemama

      June 2, 2011 at 9:47 pm |
    • milo

      that's right lets go Mormon we cant go wrong.

      June 2, 2011 at 9:52 pm |
  14. Debbie

    Do I care what religion Romney is? NO He can worship any way he chooses or not chooses to. With that said raised I have major problems with LDS. Their dogma is 1) Not truthful. They are not Christians. I would have more respect for them if they just said we are LDS vs lying they are Christian. 2) They have deplorable beliefs about women, people of color, what people can and cannot wear. So if Romney is LDS that's ok but I would not vote for any LDS based upon their beliefs towards women and people of color.

    June 2, 2011 at 9:39 pm |
    • brizzolata

      Well stated.

      June 2, 2011 at 9:49 pm |
    • Brittney

      Hi Debbie, who gives you the right to say who is Christian and who is not? We worship Jesus Christ. You are misinformed which is unfortunate. I am a woman, and I have never been mistreated by the church.

      June 2, 2011 at 9:54 pm |
    • milo

      that's the past, blacks are Mormon members too.

      June 2, 2011 at 9:54 pm |
    • JP

      Really? Where did you get all these facts you're numbering off? I was raised Mormon and chose not to continue being one for the last 15 years. I stopped going because of organized religion in general, nothing to do with specific doctorines. First off, Mormons are Christians, they believe Christ is the Savior (definition of a Christian). Those abhorrent practices towards women and people of color were dismissed ages ago, much like our country dismissed slavery, enacted civil rights and womens sufferage. I can't believe I'm defending any religion, but ignorance is ignorance.

      June 2, 2011 at 9:54 pm |
    • Jessica

      Everything you just said is completely incorrect. Their official name is "The Church of JESUS CHRIST of Latter Day Saints." Many of their beliefs parallel those of Catholics. The Church focuses on promoting strong family values and a healthy lifestyle. How can you rival a man with strong morals and honorable intentions?

      June 2, 2011 at 10:03 pm |
    • Italy

      You are too funny. Did you know that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints (Mormons) was the first group in American history to give women rights of any kind? Bet you didn’t know that did you. They gave the Women their very own group called the Relief Society, founded in 1842, where they had their OWN Relief Society President, a women of course, who handles all the affairs of the women in the church in their areas. Not only were they considerate to women they also were to Blacks unlike all of Christendom of the early 20th century. In fact they were and still are strongly against slave practice.

      June 2, 2011 at 10:11 pm |
    • Friend

      The Governor of Missouri issuend an "Extermination Order" against the Mormons back in the 19th century, largely due to their stance against slavery. Large numbers of Mormons were pouring into Missouri, the Governor was worried that their vote would make Missouri into *gasp* a free state! Those dang hateful Mormons, persecuting those peaceful slave-owners. The nerve!

      June 2, 2011 at 10:24 pm |
  15. Barrie

    Why not a Mormon president? It would be better then the Islamic one we have now!

    June 2, 2011 at 9:39 pm |
    • pooflingingmonkey

      You probably really believe that. Considering that the LDS thinks black-skinned people are inferior, you should join their cult... I mean sect... I mean religion.

      June 2, 2011 at 9:43 pm |
    • Reasonable

      Yeah...how long ago was it that the Mormons starting actually letting black people into their cult, I mean sect, I mean religion?

      June 2, 2011 at 9:49 pm |
    • Brittney

      Black people could join the church since the very beginning, way before other churches allowed black people into their churches.. ugh.. ignorance.

      June 2, 2011 at 9:56 pm |
    • Friend

      Cult, sect, and religion are really only different words for the same thing. Also, there are General Authorities of the LDS Church who are black, hispanic, asian, caucasian, what have you.

      June 2, 2011 at 10:26 pm |
  16. Doug Allen

    Did you know that Mormons believe that Indian are descendants of the Jews who came to North America and because God didn't like what they did, he cursed their skin. Mormons believe that God changes your white skin to darker skin if you have been unfaithful. They also believe that God was once a human like us and he has been given this planet to rule over. Mitt Romney as a good Mormon believes that when he dies he will inherit a planet to rule over. The Mormon faith can be refuted by DNA evidence and archeological evidence and if it can be shown to be a false book, then the basis of their whole faith is gone.Do we really want such a person running our country, when their faith is the whole reason for their existence?

    June 2, 2011 at 9:39 pm |
    • Morinta

      That explains Glenn Beck.

      June 2, 2011 at 9:40 pm |
    • brizzolata

      All that to say 'no'. Agreed. And it's not so much about the religion than it is about their weird, secretive and exclusionary practices. Take out the Jesus (or God) – add the bizarre recruiting practices, it's a clan.

      June 2, 2011 at 9:48 pm |
    • Brittney

      Doug, you are repeating false doctrine purported by those against the church. I'm sorry you believe everything you hear. Check out mormon.org if you want truth, or you can continue believing lies..

      June 2, 2011 at 9:59 pm |
    • milo

      What happened to Cain who killed Abel his brother? God changed his skin and cursed him that is in the holy bible. We mostly don't know what happens when we die but some do know what happens when they die. Mormons believe in God of Israel. I believe in God of Israel too.

      June 2, 2011 at 9:59 pm |
    • Doogie

      That same DNA evidence also supports that we descended from Africans. How do you feel about that?

      June 2, 2011 at 10:33 pm |
  17. Reasonable

    Sweeeet! Maybe he'll legalize polygamy for everyone so we can treat our women like numbers out in public, instead of doing it the Christian way and hiding that kind of behavior behind closed doors.

    June 2, 2011 at 9:39 pm |
    • milo

      What a fool u are that is the past. Moses and other early people had many wives that is in the bible. The past is past.

      June 2, 2011 at 10:01 pm |
  18. hih

    We had better wake up as an electorate and demand a change in the status quo. The party loyalty along with the lobbyist who run both parties is death to our republic. Do we really need more proof?

    June 2, 2011 at 9:38 pm |
  19. John

    " Not a bad time, maybe, for a guy with a Harvard MBA"
    Sorry, but Wisconsin conservatives are a lot like conservatives nationwide. No respect for college boys. After all, Bill Gates isn't one and look where he got (have heard that so many times it makes me want to puke)

    June 2, 2011 at 9:38 pm |
    • Sean

      Yeah It is ridiculous to argue by throwing out outliers such as Bill Gates. Saying that someone without any college experience is equally qualified as a person with an MBA from Harvard is untrue 99.9% of the time. I don't think that conservatives would generally agree that a degree from the most respectable and prestigious college in the world is worthless though.

      June 2, 2011 at 9:45 pm |
  20. get even

    Whatever happened to seperation of church and state, and what doe's it matter as long as he/she is a good American?

    June 2, 2011 at 9:38 pm |
    • Reasonable

      Separation of church and state? Have you seen your money, lately? Take a look at it – any single form of US currency and tell me if you really believe in separation of church and state being a viable US policy.

      June 2, 2011 at 9:41 pm |
    • Friend

      The problem is that if the President doesn't agree with everyone at the same time, he is a terrible president. To Republicans, Obama is a terrible president because he is a Democrat. To Democrats, Bush was a terrible President because he is a Republican. To Evangelicals, Mormons are wrong because they are not Evangelicals. Its all a huge web of arrogance and ignorance.

      June 2, 2011 at 10:30 pm |
    • mom

      I think the separation of church and state business has nothing to do with God but rather was an escape from how things were done in Europe. Besides, really, if you are an atheist...what do trust more: the value of your dollar or in the possible existence of a God who would ensure the dollar doesn't collapse (entirely)?

      June 2, 2011 at 10:49 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.