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. give your head a shake

    too easy to ridicule the ridiculous.

    June 2, 2011 at 4:21 pm |
  2. give your head a shake

    are women mormons allowed to wear magical thong underwear? if not, there's gotta be a lot of pantylines in the temple. not very fashionable.

    June 2, 2011 at 4:20 pm |
    • Ralph T

      Is that the most intelligent thing you have to offer? I thought so.

      June 2, 2011 at 4:22 pm |
  3. WasabiPotPie

    What does it matter? The USA has problems that are not addressed by, caused by, or solved by religion. I just do not see religion helping or hurting some of our issues.

    June 2, 2011 at 4:19 pm |
  4. Chuck

    The question is kind of ironic. America is supposed to separate church and state, yet we're hesitant to vote for someone because they're mormon? What happens when a mormon or an atheist runs who could become to next FDR, JFK, but doesn't get elected merely because of religion? Sad country if during the extreme hardship we're facing we vote based on religion.

    June 2, 2011 at 4:19 pm |
    • Bill

      We voted for Obama. He is either: 1) Muslim 2) Atheist 3) From a Christian religous sect that is easily as weird as the Mormans.

      June 2, 2011 at 4:26 pm |
    • jason

      are you mormon?

      June 2, 2011 at 5:48 pm |
  5. GozieBoy

    We have seen Romney for years now, and know all about his successes in running businesses and the Olympics and being governor of Massachusetts. When you look at the rag tag cast of characters who run every 4 years, I can't imagine anyone now being worried that Romney might suddenly become some kind of a religious zealot if elected! He's an honest and good guy, whether you agree with his political positions or not.

    June 2, 2011 at 4:18 pm |
  6. Ryan

    For one I could point out 20 mispelling errors,"Mormonism" not a word,weird huh.I am a Mormon I do support Mitt and I did in 2008,but religion aside Mitt can get it done,and he has in the past!!!! Obama has failed the USA no doubt about that.Mitt's morals,family values is what America is on.Shame on the people who can't move past that,You (not me) voted on a black man for President and not a Mormon,turns out the Mormon Canidiate coud have changed the whole USA around cool huh.

    June 2, 2011 at 4:17 pm |
    • David, CA

      Mitt's "values" change daily on what he thinks people will want him to say. He's got more flip flops than Old Navy.

      June 2, 2011 at 4:19 pm |
    • Unfrozen Caveman

      I'm guessing Ryan is a bogus "Mormon" to actually try to make a case against Obama based on skin color.

      But then again, it wasn't until the 1970s (I think) that AfricanAmericans and/or people of color were permitted to hold offical leadership roles in the LDS church. So maybe Ryan is an "old school" Mormon who disagrees with the LDS leaders???

      June 2, 2011 at 4:32 pm |
  7. Justin Observation

    Not sure why believing in a sky daddy seems to be an important trait to voters. It's seems like it would be more of a red flag. But I guess believing anything is true, makes some people feel better than admitting they truly do not know. Anyone who says they "know" is a liar, and why would anyone want a liar as their leader?

    June 2, 2011 at 4:17 pm |
    • jason

      You dont have to see to believe or know. Do you know there is air?

      June 2, 2011 at 5:49 pm |
  8. and

    Is America ready for a Mormon president? I sure hope not.

    June 2, 2011 at 4:17 pm |
    • Ryan

      Were you ready for a Black President?

      June 2, 2011 at 4:18 pm |
    • Unfrozen Caveman

      There is Ryan the racist Mormon again. Explain skin color and how it relates to competency?

      June 2, 2011 at 4:33 pm |
  9. Nancy

    Why not?

    June 2, 2011 at 4:16 pm |
    • David, CA

      Because I'd seriously question someone's sanity and intelligence that would believe in the bible let alone the lunacy that is the book of mormon that's why.

      Now excuse me my magic underwear is ridding up on me.

      June 2, 2011 at 4:20 pm |
    • Ralph T

      I'd be willing to bet that David has never read the Bible or the Book of Mormon.

      June 2, 2011 at 4:23 pm |
  10. Norman

    Bush Jr was given warning 3 weeks before 9/11 that Osama was going to attack buildings with planes-he did nothing and 3000 people died-think thats pretty bad...

    June 2, 2011 at 4:15 pm |
    • Bill

      Two things:
      1) George W. Bush is not a Junior
      2) What planet are you from? Bush knew?

      June 2, 2011 at 4:22 pm |
  11. shaylady

    I would like to see an athiest run. This way we can leave religion out of politics like it should be. I don't care what religion a nominee is or isn't I am more concerned if we can finally get someone in office that knows what the hell they are doing. It has been a long time since that has happened. And to all of those who believed Obama was a better canidate for the Democratic party because he was a man......well congratulations for adding another four years to the 8 prior years of poor leadership!

    June 2, 2011 at 4:14 pm |
    • David, CA

      Anen to that! (ha ha)

      June 2, 2011 at 4:22 pm |
    • Tom G

      You are wonderful!

      June 2, 2011 at 4:22 pm |
  12. Michael

    Romney is way too sane and balanced (even as he displays typical GOP spinelessness on healthcare) to win a Republican primary in this age of right-wing rabies. When TPers refer to Hitler, the man who burned down the Reichstag and blamed it on Communists, then proceeded to hunt them to extinction in Germany, then declared war on the Soviet Union even though he had a peace treaty with them; when TPers refer to this man as a LIBERAL – why, it boggles the mind. What historical figure would be conservative enough for them? Nebuchadnezzar? Simon Legree? Captain Bligh would probably be too socialist for these kooks.

    June 2, 2011 at 4:14 pm |
  13. Lynn

    The Evangelicals won't vote for him and either should any woman. The Mormans are no better than Muslims when it comes to women's rights. Have many children and be subservient to the man. Investigate Utah and surrounding states, polygamy is alive and well in the Mormon church, the practice is an open secret,.

    June 2, 2011 at 4:14 pm |
    • Lisa

      Your ignorance is amazing. Women are not subservient to men in the Mormon church. They have different roles and responsibilities but work together in the family. Any man who is "ruling" over his wife is not following the counsel of the Mormon church.

      And polygamy is not an "open secret" in Utah. I have a cousin who decided he wanted more than one wife and was kicked out of the Mormon church faster than you can blink! It is not tolerated by the Mormon church in any way, shape or form. Polygamists in Utah/Arizona are not part of the Mormon church and haven't been for more than 100 YEARS.

      June 2, 2011 at 4:23 pm |
    • Ryan

      It is an "open" practice I agree,but the people who call themselves Mormons and practice Polygamy are NOT part of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, they would be part of the FLDS church.I would know if I had 2 moms running around right now.Arrests have already been made in Polygamy groups like that.

      June 2, 2011 at 4:24 pm |
    • S.

      http://mormon.org/me/1N1Q This link is a video about an African-American woman who is LDS, and is the Mayor of her city, as well as a mother. Check it out!

      June 2, 2011 at 11:09 pm |
  14. David Johnson

    Is America Ready For a Mormon President?

    Nope, especially a Republican, Mormon, President.


    June 2, 2011 at 4:14 pm |
  15. Jeetu

    Mr. Romney does not understand America, its values, and its needs. Obama-bashing does not create jobs. Since creating jobs is his stated top priority, let him show how he intends to do that. Thus, he needs to share his plan and not just say that Obama has failed America. Actually, his record in Massachusetts does not show that he is capable of creating jobs.

    Thus, I think Mr. Romney cannot be a good President as his job will be to create positive image of the country and to move it forward rather than be negative and just blame everything on Obama.

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

      Thank you. I couldn't have said it better. He leads off his campaign blaming Obama for the financial mess he inherited from Republicans.

      June 2, 2011 at 4:20 pm |
    • Ryan

      Why don't you go visit his website can get back to me...Doesn't understand America where did you get that from WOW!!!

      June 2, 2011 at 4:27 pm |
  16. Simone

    You have the right to be stupid. You have the right to be dumb. You have the right to pick any cult you want.
    You just don't have the right to tell me what i can or cannot say.

    June 2, 2011 at 4:12 pm |
  17. Seriously?

    There is so much wrong information about Mormons in the comments I don't even know where to begin. It's amazing how much people think they know but don't really. Yikes!

    I also find it interesting that 1 )the article doesn't mention that Harry Reid is a Mormon. They aren't just Republicans, you know. and 2) That rarely are peoples religious beliefs mentioned in the news media unless they are Mormon. I've even seen it in reality shows "So-and-so, a Mormon, . . ." but the other 20 people in the show don't have their religion mentioned.

    Does it really matter what Mitt Romney's religion is? What matters is whether you think he will be a good president or not!

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

      I refuse to vote for a Mormon. One of my friends is Mormon. Anyone who believes that stuff as a grown man is not smart enough to be President, so yes, his religion does matter.

      Joseph smith and the stones? Give me a break. Mormonism started as a radical left religion with polygamy and as a cult that fought against normal values. Now they calin to be on the far right? Disconnect with their tradiontal vaules.

      Further, believing Jesus came to the U.S. Not to mention that when Joseph Smith's friend who hid the stones and asked him to interpret his new "bible: word for word got a different version the second time only further proves how dumb anyone is for believing this garbage. To quote South Park, "Sure no one SAW Jesus coem to Joesph Smith. But why would he make that up?"

      Lastly, Mormons don't lead real lives. Wasting your whole life worrying about not drinking tea even in hope for a better second life is such a waste. Anyone who does this loses creidbility in many peoples' minds, and that is why there is hesistation to vote for a Mormon.

      June 2, 2011 at 4:17 pm |
    • Unfrozen Caveman

      Bobby – Smith and the stones? Any more crazy then burning bushes, loaves and fishes, Moses mountian climbing with huge stone tablets, possessed suicidal pigs, water into wine and the other "miracles" of faith in the Bible????

      All of them are fairy tales foisted on the masses.

      June 2, 2011 at 4:37 pm |
  18. Reality

    Once again, all the conservative votes in the country "ain't" going to help a "pro-life" presidential candidate, i.e Romney, in 2012 as the "Immoral Majority" rules the country and will be doing so for awhile. The "Immoral Majority" you ask?

    The fastest growing USA voting bloc: In 2008, the 70+ million "Roe vs. Wade mothers and fathers" of aborted womb-babies" whose ranks grow by two million per year i.e. 78+ million "IM" voters in 2012.

    2008 Presidential popular vote results:

    69,456,897 for pro-abortion BO, 59,934,814 for "pro-life" JM.

    And all because many women fail to take the Pill once a day or men fail to use a condom even though in most cases these men have them in their pockets.

    (The failures of the widely used birth "control" methods i.e. the Pill and male condom have led to the large rate of abortions ( one million/yr) and S-TDs (19 million/yr) in the USA. Men and women must either recognize their responsibilities by using the Pill or condoms properly and/or use other safer birth control methods in order to reduce the epidemics of abortion and S-TDs.)

    (Currently, a perfect birth control barrier system does not exist. Time to develop one! In the meantime, mono-ma-sturbation or mutual ma-sturbation are highly recommended for hete-rose-xuals who need a contraceptive. Abstinence is another best-solution but obviously the se-x drive typically vitiates this option although being biological would it not be able to develop a drug to temporarily eliminate said drive?)

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

      You are delusional to believe that the bulk of the voting that takes placed is based solely on the prolife/proabortion issue.

      June 2, 2011 at 4:19 pm |
  19. חֲנוֹךְ

    He will only get my vote if he legalizes polygamy.

    June 2, 2011 at 4:10 pm |
    • Tom G

      As if anyone wanted to have sx with you in the first place. Yah, rite.

      June 2, 2011 at 4:26 pm |
  20. Bill

    Here we go! So predictable. The liberal media will start the whole religious questioning now that it's a Republican. I can still remember when it was Obama; "Hands off the religious questions". "Religion shouldn't matter as President". "Religion is a personal matter between him and his God". Now??? Romney is a mormon! Are we ready for a mormon President? Sooner or later the next Headline (most likely be this network or some other liberal establishment) will be "MORMONISM!! RELIGION OR CULT?? I'd say soon after he gets the nomination from the GOP.....if he gets it.

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

      They just want to know if he listened to the message for the twenty years that he sat in that church.... oh wait, sorry, wrong candidate.

      June 2, 2011 at 4:12 pm |
    • standingwave

      Get real Bill.Republicans made religion an issue when they refused to vote for Romney based on his Mormonism and when they decided calling Obama a Muslim was an insult.

      June 2, 2011 at 4:19 pm |
    • joe McCarthy

      this has nothing to do with any liberal but the republican party. I remember the hard knocks on Obama being a muslim which was not even through. I have learnt from it. I'm conservative and will not like any mormon as leader of the GOP. It is a CULT period and Romney has no communication skilll to explain his Romney care either

      June 2, 2011 at 4:28 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.