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. pretty much true

    I'm leaning toward ron paul so we can get away from the fed.

    June 2, 2011 at 10:31 pm |
    • Mike Crotch

      And here I thought you were leaning towards him because you liked older men.....

      June 2, 2011 at 10:36 pm |
  2. bigdoglv

    Is America ready for a Methodist president? You guys are a bunch a tools.

    June 2, 2011 at 10:31 pm |
  3. Notmyvote

    I didn't hear if anyone was asking for "is America ready for a MIXED president either." Obama is not only black but he is also white. If its not a color issue then of course we have to make an issue of religion. I'm not a fan of Romney no matter what religion he is.

    June 2, 2011 at 10:29 pm |
    • maynard

      exactly, what about mr 50/50

      June 2, 2011 at 10:31 pm |
    • Mike Crotch

      Your post reminds me of that michael jackson song black or white. To me, as long as its not muslim, I don't care what religion they are.

      June 2, 2011 at 10:32 pm |
  4. john

    anderson coopers a gay journalist. why not a mormon prez??

    June 2, 2011 at 10:29 pm |
  5. viva7

    Do the Mormons tell you that Joseph Smith, their founder , rewrote large sections of the Bilble.. Mormons say they follow the Bible BUT upon scrutiny of their doctrine they will tell you that they believe that the Bible is incorrect.

    June 2, 2011 at 10:29 pm |
    • Mike Crotch

      so what. our president is married to someone who is ashamed of America and he went to church with a minister that would say GD America.... what was your point again?

      June 2, 2011 at 10:33 pm |
    • Tree

      @viva7 The bible should be filed in the same category as comic books, I can't believe that people believe in such garbage. All of it is garbage....Fairy tales and explanations for the unknown. If there were a god and god cared, how would you explain the reason that the lives of some people are full of suffering while people like you enjoy the lap of luxury on a global scale(living in the US as I do) and all you can say is somebody changed a work of fiction that you hold to be true. Of all the religions of the world Christianity is the worst any way you slice it, and don't go saying what about 9/11, Christians have done far worse throughout history than that one event that was created by fundamentalists like yourself.

      June 2, 2011 at 10:40 pm |
  6. Waleed

    "And he had caused the cursing to come upon them, yea, even a sore cursing, because of their iniquity. For behold, they had hardened their hearts against him, that they had become like unto a flint; wherefore, as they were white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome, that they might not be enticing unto my people the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them." – This is from the Book of Mormon Nephi 5:21. Why should I support anyone that worships this racist religion?

    June 2, 2011 at 10:29 pm |
    • Dingle

      Congrats for taking scripture out of context. Lemme find something from the Bible to take out of context qucik...

      June 2, 2011 at 10:30 pm |
    • Mike Crotch

      Nephi? Is that one of those discount sodas that came in glass bottles back in the day?

      June 2, 2011 at 10:34 pm |
    • Waleed

      This is not out of Context (I have my very own Book of Mormon). There are many scriptures that reference white versus dark skin color in the Mormon book. Also, the Mormons until recent history practice separation of the races and believed blacks did not belong in any positions in the Mormon church. Here is another excerpt from the Book of Mormon::

      And it came to pass that those Lamanites who had united with the Nephites were numbered among the Nephites;
      And their curse was taken from them, and their skin became white like unto the Nephites;
      And their young men and their daughters became exceedingly fair, and they were numbered among the Nephites, and were called Nephites. And thus ended the thirteenth year. – 3Nehpi 2:15 & 2:16

      June 2, 2011 at 10:41 pm |
    • .........

      Why should you support a bunch of creeps that requires you to give them a code word or secret handshake in order to get in the place?

      When you pop that bubble you live in and get back down here to reality THEN open your mouth. Till then, shut the heII up!!!!

      Book of Mormon my Azz.

      June 2, 2011 at 10:46 pm |
  7. Holly Anderson

    Just because someone doesn't agree with what another person believes, why does that affect not voting for them? I, being a mormon, have never held the same beliefs as anyone I voted for, and I have no problem with that. I just vote for who I think will do a good job. That's it.

    June 2, 2011 at 10:28 pm |
    • .........

      Check your ears. That brown stuff coming out of them smells like crap!!!

      June 2, 2011 at 11:17 pm |
  8. Dingle

    These posts are classic. Mormon beliefs are "nuts" but the general Christian beliefs that a man died, rose from the dead 3 days later, healed the blind and lepers and ascended to heaven is "not nuts" ? Religion is mainly based on faith.. not pure logical reason.

    June 2, 2011 at 10:28 pm |
    • .........

      It's based on fantasy and that's all it's based on..

      Those weak-minded clowns will tell you that god does EVERYTHING, then make every excuse in the book why "HE" didn't kill the people in the Joplin tornado. "HE" didn't cause hurricane Katrina. "HE" didn't cause the death of the kid that killed by a gang banger on a new york street.....etc, etc, etc. Yeah right – "HE" does everything for them but, "HE" isn't to blame for ANYTHING that hurts them!!!


      Religion is for weak-minded sucks that don't believe in themselves. They have NO self confidence and no self esteem and the ONLY reason they go to church and give that child-molesting weezle in front of that pulpit their hard-earned money, is so they'll look good to all their neighbors and business associates.

      Reality hurt like heII – doesn't it?

      June 2, 2011 at 11:01 pm |
  9. cassie

    His being a Mormon is a non issue to me. He's looking pretty good compared to SP, MB and all the others.

    June 2, 2011 at 10:27 pm |
    • .........

      Yeah and he's STILL a boneheaded republican moron that's going to give your money to the rich and tax the crap out of you!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      "NO", you say? REMEMBER GEORGE BUSH? WELL, ROMNEY IS WITH THE SAME PARTY!! Trouble is, the party is on YOU and you ain't the guest of honor!!!!

      That fire you're playing with is STILL hot, no matter what name you give it ..................Bush, Palin, Romney, etc, etc,!!!!!!!!!!!!! AND DON'T YOU EVER FORGET IT.


      June 2, 2011 at 11:06 pm |
  10. Mormon

    I belong to the church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormon) and while there are many people who have strong opinions here I think that Mormons are stereotyped based on preconceived notions. Go to mormon.org To find out some our basic beliefs.

    We believe that Jesus Christ js the savior and redeemer of all mankind
    We believe that he Ives

    Please do not let stereotypes alter your vote. I am not saying vote for Romney, but rather study the politics and integrity of each candidate.

    June 2, 2011 at 10:27 pm |
    • Sleepingcat

      The Mormon religion is a cult. I'm not even a christian and I'm warning you to consider that the Mormons believe they will become gods. They baptize dead people and they have a prophesy that says they will rule the American government someday. Be warned.

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

      Cult is such a convenient term for those who want to demonize any religion... Every religion has beliefs about the afterlife and certain ceremonies and customs.

      June 2, 2011 at 10:32 pm |
    • .........

      Oh B.S. We need a Mormon in as president about as much as we need an other damn jew in the treaury department.


      June 2, 2011 at 10:34 pm |
    • .........

      be careful here Sleepingcat..........these goofy holy rollers aren't into reality. Now, if you want to talk about ghosts and fantasy land NOW yer' talking' !!!!

      June 2, 2011 at 10:37 pm |
    • the truth

      Mitt will rule like the church.... he will excomunicate anyone who doesnt agree with his views and force romney care on us ... by the way look up cult ... momonism is a cult... any religion that does their business in secreat and tatoo signs on their underwears are either a gang or a cult you choose...

      June 2, 2011 at 10:37 pm |
    • .........

      Nawwww............the Mormon church isn't a cult. That's why they have to give their secret handshake and code words in order to get IN to creepy place!!!

      What the heII else would you call it – a spin-off of the Boy Scouts?

      June 2, 2011 at 10:41 pm |
  11. Nick

    I prefer Captain Crunch WITH crunchberries. I really do.

    June 2, 2011 at 10:26 pm |
    • truth2power

      I think Rubber Soul is a better album than Revolver but I really dig some of the tunes on Revolver.

      June 2, 2011 at 10:32 pm |
  12. James

    Check out You Tube "The Secret World of Mormonism". This video has been well hidden; however it can still be found and is quite shocking.

    June 2, 2011 at 10:25 pm |
    • Dingle

      Check out You Tube "Obama is a Muslim" - That is all true as well.. *eye roll*

      June 2, 2011 at 10:26 pm |
    • Mike Crotch

      You just made me lol

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

      Hey Dingle Berry............when ya' get a spare minute reach down and yank your head out of your butt!

      June 2, 2011 at 11:09 pm |
  13. dave

    yes PJ,
    those Harvard graduates like Romney are brainwashed in a cult! Ridiculous. There is no mind control there! BTW, by definition a cult is any religious sect, though it got a bad connotation during the waco era

    June 2, 2011 at 10:25 pm |
  14. TLB

    He's a little too conservative for my taste. The GOP makes me nervous when they keep wanting to write nanny laws to take away individual rights and freedoms. An oppressive president isn't going to bring the economy back. I'd rather vote for someone who's more laid back and not as stuffy.

    June 2, 2011 at 10:25 pm |
  15. Matpatbat

    So, Utah allows civil unions? Who would have guessed? No one. No except the author of this piece, because Huntsman never signed any such thing, nor did any such bill pass our ultra-right legislature. More's the pity.

    June 2, 2011 at 10:24 pm |
  16. Tom

    People, REALLY read about the Mormon "religion" (cult) and tell me if you want someone who prescribes to those beliefs run our country...

    June 2, 2011 at 10:24 pm |
  17. Dingle

    Is America ready for a President that isn't judged on their religion as long as it is a "mainstream" religion like Lutheran, Baptists or generic "Christian" ? No.

    June 2, 2011 at 10:24 pm |
    • Double standard?

      The question is, is the media ready for a Mormon president? They sure were ready for the first half-black president! In fact, we are still hearing about how wonderful he is. What is the difference? Why can't people be judged on the issues, instead of their private lives? People made a big deal about JFK's Catholic religion. Did that hurt him?

      June 2, 2011 at 10:32 pm |
  18. Cindy

    We're ready for him if he'll bring MA-style universal health care to all. Oh, and if he swears he's wearing his white underwear. Mormons are nice people but their beliefs are NUUUUUTS.

    June 2, 2011 at 10:23 pm |
    • .........

      Hell Angles are nice people too. Every Christmas they help thousands of hospitalized kids.


      June 2, 2011 at 11:11 pm |
  19. George

    Well we just elected a president who sat for nearly 20 years in a pew listening to the poisonous venom of reverend Wright. If we can do that why not a Mormon?

    June 2, 2011 at 10:23 pm |
  20. Spiffy

    Statistics show that atheists are the least trusted people in the U.S. It's too bad that people base their opinions on people about which fairytale they believe.

    June 2, 2011 at 10:23 pm |
    • .........

      They're least trusted because they're REALISTS! Have you REALLY ever met a churchgoer that was a realist?

      You have when heII freezes over.

      June 2, 2011 at 11:15 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.