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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. cougar

    Just wait until the cult takes over like it always does when it comes done to the crunch with this religion. Why were blacks not accepted in there religon; why if wives die first are they not allowed to heaven until the husband dies and they can call there wives up to heaven ... everything is always peachy for everyone until some one crosses a Mormon and then it is take on one take on them all. Wgen push comes to shove women have no place except to have babies.

    June 2, 2011 at 10:39 pm |
  2. No Mormons

    Absolutely NO MORMONS for President!! We can't stress that enough times and we thought the Republicans had gotten the message the last time around. It will be no different this time around, just wait and see. His Mormonism WILL again become a BIG, Central issue in his campaign and he will lose again just because of it.

    June 2, 2011 at 10:39 pm |
  3. Carrotroot

    As long as they aren't Scientologists ...

    June 2, 2011 at 10:38 pm |
  4. HeavenSent

    I think he's cuter than Sarah so I might vote for him. But Bama out-cutes him by a mile. He's such a chunk.

    Amen.

    June 2, 2011 at 10:37 pm |
  5. its a choice

    I think it's a damn shame that people would choose Huckabee (last election) when it was proven that he was lying and intentionally hateful in his speeches toward Romney simply because he is a Mormon. Evangelicals who flocked to Huckabee really need to consider their beliefs if they would intentionally ignore Romney just to avoid having a Mormon in the White House.

    Hopefully people will vote with their knowledge and not with their preconceived ideas about religion.

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

      A Mormon president will make regress the country centuries! I lived in Utah for 9 years. I had enought. Lots of power abuse, nepotism, no opportunities for women, unless you know how to cook muffins or committed to make babies. Flat and shallow culture.

      June 2, 2011 at 10:42 pm |
  6. denny

    The Mormon church would be in the White House. The church has been hitting the air ways about different people with different careers saying they are Mormon. We will be having young people knocking on our doors day and night

    June 2, 2011 at 10:36 pm |
  7. GotAway

    I've had the misfortune to date a Mormon man & get their cult shoved down my throat. I feel lucky to have escaped. I will fight to keep Mormons out of the White House to my dying breath. If Romney wants to drag his wife thru the "veil" by her hair so she
    can sit at his feet as part of their wedding, that's their twisted beliefs, but I will NEVER let a man who believes he becomes a god in his own universe upon his death be my president! NEVER! Learn the truth about Mormon beliefs & join the fight against these freaks!

    June 2, 2011 at 10:36 pm |
    • Dingle

      I dated a Catholic girl once too... I can't believe they believe the Pope is the spokesman for God on earth! What a bunch of freaks! /sarcasm off

      June 2, 2011 at 10:37 pm |
    • its a choice

      My guess is you haven't a clue what you're talking about, but hey, Huckabee needs members.

      June 2, 2011 at 10:38 pm |
    • glenn

      Does a person make a religion? I think not, they do not represent it as a whole and to judge a single religion by one person is faulty. Be it a Christian, Jew, Jehovah Witness, and or Mormon.

      June 2, 2011 at 10:46 pm |
  8. Bannister

    If we were ready for a black president named Barack Hussain Obama WHO WE HARDLY KNEW – then yes, we are ready for Mitt Romney who's been a governor and a business leader for 20+ years.

    June 2, 2011 at 10:36 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Heaven sent us Mitt Romney's soiled magic underwear.

      Amen.

      June 2, 2011 at 10:40 pm |
    • Robert

      If we were ready to put a black man in the White House because he's black WHICH WE APPARENTLY DID then sure we're ready to put a non-Christian in as the head of our Christian nation.

      June 2, 2011 at 10:42 pm |
    • Diane

      Stupid headline. Duh, if we are ready for a black President or any other nationality, or religious orientation why wouldn't we be ready for a Mormon leader? Seperation of church and state... REMEMBER?!
      Nice.

      June 2, 2011 at 10:45 pm |
    • Robert

      "Separation of church and state" is really the prohibition of the government establishing an official state religion, akin to the Church of England where the head of the church and the head of the government were the same person. The separation you mention is not and never was intended to be the complete exclusion of religion from government. Every one of the founding fathers was a solid believer in God. Whether each was a full-on Christian or a humanist or something in between, they all believed in God and that "blessed is the nation whose god is the LORD". Many wrote about the woes of the day when citizens would put aside God and how the nation would have a serious down-turn in its morals, its social conscience, etc. Compare where we are now to where we were then, and it is obvious we've fallen. We don't need less Christianity in government. We need men and women that believe and are willing to stand up for what they believe, to humbly govern with the mindset of doing God's will...not what's right in their own eyes.

      June 2, 2011 at 11:04 pm |
  9. Nick

    Which would you prefer? People that are generally hard working and nice (Mormons) or people that are generally argumentative, loud, and insecure enough about their own beliefs to attack other's personal beliefs (evangelicals–especially baptists)?

    June 2, 2011 at 10:36 pm |
    • gozer

      False dichotomy.

      June 2, 2011 at 11:14 pm |
  10. William

    Mormon, Christian, muslim, it's all the same. Mormonism is just more recent bs. Same nonsense though.

    June 2, 2011 at 10:35 pm |
  11. ryan

    Most AMericans do not travel outside their own border lucky if they leave their own state, dont learn nothing in school about other countries and then act like they are the experts on foreign policy and other cultures. Obama is a muslim because Fox says so. Romney is in a cult and going to hell. Who makes stupid comments like that Americans. At least the muslims in Arab lands can claim ignorance because they have no access to internet or books about other cultures. Americans have access to anything they want but dont just watch fox they actually choose to be ignorant that is so much worse and quite lazy.

    June 2, 2011 at 10:35 pm |
  12. KP

    Ok why would it matter WHAT religion anyone is to be President? Or if they had a religion at all? This country was not founded by a religion, but by BELIEFS. If you don't understand or comprehend the difference there's a reason, look inside yourself and you will find that reason. (Not physically chd).

    June 2, 2011 at 10:34 pm |
  13. kd

    look up 'the whitehorse prophecy' and then discuss.

    The Mormons are still very unknown. Once people really hear what they believe then, no, people won't vote for them. All religions believe in bizarre myths, but Mormons make Scientologists look rational.

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

      Read about "the crusades" and how most Christian religions split off from the Catholic religion... they must all be deemed as not fit for President as well.. wow.

      June 2, 2011 at 10:35 pm |
  14. joey

    When the time is ripe, Tupac will come out of his secret spiderhole in the Utah desert to become the first black Mormon president of our great nation.

    June 2, 2011 at 10:33 pm |
  15. Brian in TX

    Oh, hell no! Keep religion out of policy!

    June 2, 2011 at 10:33 pm |
  16. Alex

    you know being a Mormon is no problem what so ever, but being Republican and Mormon it does scare me, cause he is going start to bring his church to the government,and that what scare me .

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

    After this last round, a Mormon sounds intriguing. Yes, I think America is ready for the challenge, considering the amazing beating we are all getting right now.

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

    Mormons = Christians on the crazy scale and we have had Christian presidents so why not a Mormon? Come on he has magical underwear, how can you lose with that on your side?

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

      Go this website for their real explanation of their so called "magic under wear."
      http://www.lightplanet.com/response/answers/garment.htm

      June 2, 2011 at 10:35 pm |
    • truthandmusic

      Thanks for the link Hercules, it does a great job verifying my original statement. Mormons = Christians on the crazy scale.

      June 2, 2011 at 10:51 pm |
    • Robert

      OK, I'll challenge that web page. The Ecclesiastes passage is symbolic: white clothing symbolizes being spotless, i.e. untarnished; without sin. "let your head lack no oil" is symbolic of being a follower of God. The Revelation ver 16:15 is also symbolic. In context with "blessed is he who watches", it indicates that the verse is implying being ready, i.e., ready for a journey (which in this passage would mean being prepared spiritually to go to heaven).

      Yes, God made clothing out of animal skins for Adam and Eve...not as a symbol of a covenant to him, but to cover their nakedness, which they were oblivious to until they ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. It shows God continued to care for them in spite of their sin, but it does not mean what the LDS says it does.

      God commanded Moses to have certain garments made in Exodus 28-29, yes. That web page takes it completely out of context. The clothing was specifically for the priests (which were only men, and only of the tribe of Levi). They were not every-day clothing, they were ritual, ceremonial garments. Again, they were not for everyone, only for the priests to wear while performing their priestly duties.

      And again, Revelation 3:4-5 is symbolic of being spotless/sinless.

      This is just one example of the corruption of the Bible by Mormons. A Mormon is not fit to lead a Christian nation.

      June 2, 2011 at 10:56 pm |
    • gozer

      yeah, Robert, because Christianity is such a superior supersti-tion to Mormonism. And has so much more evidence going for it. Even though we haven't seen any yet.

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

    Why is Romney being a Mormon such an issue, I believe that Obama being a Muslim a HUGE issue but this country didn’t seem to even blink an eye about that!

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

      Maybe because he's not a Muslim, you stupid conspiracy-theory spouting moron.

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

      Please get your statements (that should represent facts) straight/correct. President Obama is of the Christian faith.

      June 2, 2011 at 10:36 pm |
    • bobo

      It's simple: He is a puppet...all Mo's are puppets of the Mormon Church. That does matter to voters. They all have bomb shelters – so the Mormon Church might have Mitt hit the button, blow up the world, and the Mormons will all survive. Hmmmm – maybe it's time to convert? Besides, if you convert the men will all get their own celestial heaven and we can become God of it. How cool is that!!

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

      But Mormons are terrorists! We nearly went to war with them in the 19th century..actually I think there were some skirmishers

      June 2, 2011 at 10:40 pm |
    • truthandmusic

      It’s funny how when Obama was running for President every one was going on and on about that Christian church that he had been going to for ever and that crazy preacher he liked. Now out of the blue he is a Muslim. I can’t tell which one old white republicans hate more his name or his color.

      June 2, 2011 at 10:43 pm |
    • Kevin

      I hope your tongue was firmly in your cheek when you wrote that Tweaker!

      June 2, 2011 at 10:50 pm |
  20. Clayton

    No thanks. No Mormons.

    June 2, 2011 at 10:31 pm |
    • Dingle

      No thanks. No bigots.

      June 2, 2011 at 10:34 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.