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. Feo

    Have you ever talked to a practicing Mormon? They're nuts but then so are most Christian fundamentalists. Once people start looking into what the Mormon faith is all about the GOP is going to run in the other direction.

    June 2, 2011 at 11:19 pm |
    • Cindy

      Don't be a bigot and catagorize one group of people all the same. Sure there are crazy mormons but there are good ones too. If people study the church they'll find it's like most Christian churches that worship Jesus, they just have one extra book if scriptures they study.

      June 2, 2011 at 11:38 pm |
    • Dre

      Belief in God, Jesus and the Holy Ghost.
      Belief in worshipping god by the dictates of our own beliefs, and allow others the freedom to do the same.
      Belief that family is the most important thing in our lives.
      Belief in not passing spiritual judgement on others
      Belief in turning the other cheek when we have been wronged.
      Belief in being an kind and courteous neighbor.

      What is it exactly that you have a problem with here? Of course, not all of us live by these words, but we are suppose to. It is what we have been taught.

      June 2, 2011 at 11:39 pm |
  2. flerndip

    Who cares what religion he is. people said Obama was a muslim during his campaign, he got elected. The issue is the state of the union not religion. We are in a bad spot and it doesnt look good. We need someone to get us out of this mess and right now none of our iconic leaders, republican or democrat impress me at all. Someone needs to come forward with ideas we can all agree on and not negotiate things behind closed doors or turn things down because its a right left thing. All ideas can be compromised on to benefit the left and right but we are so stuck to our beliefs we wont compromise. Get a grip politicians , we elected you and we can and will get rid of you the next election if you dont get us out of the hell hole we are in.

    June 2, 2011 at 11:19 pm |
  3. Dee

    Well, if his campaign thinks this world has changed that much in four yrs that it will not make a difference if he is mormon to the Republicans.. lets put a Gay/lesbian in the mix as well, and see if they have a chance at some of those votes too. lol.. The Southerners and the Republicans are just as shallow today as they were 60 yrs ago

    June 2, 2011 at 11:18 pm |
  4. Army

    Mormonism = the good people..... ...and very white too.

    June 2, 2011 at 11:17 pm |
  5. Mariito


    June 2, 2011 at 11:17 pm |
  6. GJ

    Absolutely not. Keep your day job, Romney.

    June 2, 2011 at 11:16 pm |
  7. Chuck

    The one we have now is a Muslim. A Mormon would be better than that if you vote based on religion.

    June 2, 2011 at 11:15 pm |
    • Bill

      Only a fool believes the former part of your comment...

      June 2, 2011 at 11:22 pm |
  8. JClark

    I happen to agree with what Mike said above. I don't know very much, admittedly, about the Mormon faith, but what I have seen shows me that they do practice the tenets of compassion and giving. While I am not republican nor would I ever likely be, I can say if I had a choice between Romney and someone like Palin or Bachmann or any of the other religious right nutballs, I'd go for Romney in a heartbeat, as I do believe he would make his decisions without having to pray every time he needs to tie his shoelace. That aside, I will of course be voting for Obama again, so the point is moot =)

    June 2, 2011 at 11:15 pm |
  9. DoodleSheep

    We need ALL god freaks out of the government. If they thank god at any point in their campaigning they should immediately be disqualified.

    June 2, 2011 at 11:13 pm |
  10. left leaning independent

    We are not ready to give up on obama yet. The US dodged a bullet when Palin and McPalin lost. The Republicans haven't done much to make me lean right yet. They showed they can say they will cut the deficit but they can't get their own states to balance their budgets. Romney's state isn't doing so well as proof. Small government can work but without the government and the bailouts we would be in much worst as proven already by many expert economists. So if we had a Republican president in the last 3 years and vetoed the bailouts, no telling what would have happened to the US economy. It's a scenario I don't think would have been pretty.

    June 2, 2011 at 11:13 pm |
  11. satan

    i'd rather elect a heaven's gate cult member. if we're gonna have a religious idiot in charge at least make it an entertaining sort of idiocy.

    June 2, 2011 at 11:12 pm |
    • Justhad Tosayit

      That is exactly what Reverand Wright said! But hey, who am I to judge, he's only been my spiritual leader and buddy for the last 20 years!!! LOL!

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

    Obama is going to win his second term as President without a question. If the best the GOP has to throw out there are Romney and Palin I would not be to worried if I were Obama. Republicans have always been sore losers and can't admit the fact that their economic policies have brought our country to where it currently stands. The only thing Romney has to go on is the economy and being President actually requires more than being a good businessman (i think Bush proved that) Start planning for 2016 LOSERS

    June 2, 2011 at 11:12 pm |
    • Justhad Tosayit

      Now why did you let the secret out, Romney will probably start his community organizing training and finish it before the election. You need to learn not to let the other side get the advantage, OK???

      June 2, 2011 at 11:16 pm |
    • Cindy

      Obama's policies haven't provided new jobs like he promised. His stimilus hasn't stimilated the economy like promised. The only thing that has grown is dept. I think the majority of Americans are smart enough to see that Obama doesn't have what it takes to turn this country around. I'm ready for real change and I'll vote for who ever the GOP canidate is.

      June 2, 2011 at 11:31 pm |
  13. frank

    Crom laughs at your puny seagulls! He laughs from his mountain!

    June 2, 2011 at 11:11 pm |
  14. Margaret

    Religion is not the issue. It is the economy Stupid CNN!

    June 2, 2011 at 11:09 pm |
    • Hannah

      Then I wouldn't vote for a Republican if I were you. They are going to lower taxes on the rich even more and that we know that doesn't create jobs. If you want this country to slip into third world status, then vote for a Republican. They are taking us there fast. The bush recession will not end until we have jobs.

      June 2, 2011 at 11:21 pm |
    • Cindy


      June 2, 2011 at 11:33 pm |
  15. Utah Mom

    The fact that CNN is even thinking that there is an outside chance that a Mormon has a chance to win is amazing to me. As an active Mormon, I never thought I would see a day where there was a chance. Romney is a good man (no matter what his religion is!) and very capable. I say vote your conscience and hire the best person for the job. Isn't that what voting is all about anyways?

    June 2, 2011 at 11:08 pm |
  16. tj

    why are we still discussing mormons? all religion is false. i'm sorry that you were lied to (like i was), but there is no god. it's time to move on and live a real life.

    June 2, 2011 at 11:08 pm |
    • Evan

      Do you have evidence for this? Are you making this conclusion before or after reviewing the evidence?

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

      Evan- read The God Delusion. There is actually more evidence than you think regarding this matter, and the probability that there is a God is actually significantly less than 50% according to the majority of the scientific community, based on how much we've uncovered about the workings of the universe (it very much seems to govern itself through determinism based on unchanging laws).

      June 2, 2011 at 11:19 pm |
  17. Spiffy

    God isn't real. Why does this matter?

    June 2, 2011 at 11:08 pm |
    • Evan

      Where did you get this information from?

      June 2, 2011 at 11:09 pm |
    • Spiffy

      Logic and science.

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

      That's strange, because I, as well as many other Christians, got my belief in Christianity from logic, science, and history.

      June 2, 2011 at 11:13 pm |
    • Kevin

      This country is far too preoccupied with religion. I think the LDS is silly and nonsensical, no different than any other religion, but I couldn't care less about it is as long as he doesn't push a religious agenda as president. The concern, of course, is that he will, like most of the Christian right. Although, I would definitely prefer him over some other GOP candidates, because the majority of the party has been taken over by ignorance, fear, zealotry, and bigotry (all re correlated 100% of the time).

      June 2, 2011 at 11:13 pm |
    • Nyonben

      I'd say he reached that conclusion through independent thought, Evan.

      June 2, 2011 at 11:15 pm |
    • Evan


      "This country is far too preoccupied with religion"

      In this Gospels, Jesus blasted hypocrites and people who use God for their own needs and wants. I have to disagree with you statement; I don't believe our country is religious enough. If this nation were truly Christian, all of us would be good people because that's what religion tells us to do. Hypocrites and bigots aren't "too religious", they're not religious enough.

      "I think the LDS is silly and nonsensical, no different than any other religion"

      Wow, perhaps you should do some more research on your world religions, my friend.

      June 2, 2011 at 11:18 pm |
    • Evan

      Nyonben, same here.

      June 2, 2011 at 11:18 pm |
    • Spiffy

      Really? Point to any scientific evidence that supports God's existence. Also what historical fact is there? How can any logical person believe that some man in the sky controls your life.

      June 2, 2011 at 11:19 pm |
    • Kenton

      Where did you get yours from? A book? Religion has been proven wrong a plethora of times and it's stories are just derived from stories passed on from earlier generations. Research something other than your own religion. They say atheists are the most knowledgeable about this kind of stuff.

      June 2, 2011 at 11:20 pm |
    • Evan

      "Point to any scientific evidence that supports God's existence"

      Thomas' Aquinas' "Five Ways". These are some of the more basic arguments.

      "Also what historical fact is there"

      NT events are mentioned by the Gnostic Gospels, the Early Church Fathers, pre-NT creeds, Archaeological findings, pre-Islamic Arabian writings, the Qur'an, Josephus, the Talmud, Tacitus, Lucian, Suetonius, Pliny the Younger, Thallus, Phlegon, Mara Bar-Serapion, Trajan, Macrobius, Hadrian, Pius, Aurelius, Juvenal, Seneca, Hierocles, and others.

      "How can any logical person believe that some man in the sky controls your life?"

      I don't believe in a "magic, bearded man in the sky". God, as the creator of our universe, exists entirely outside of the universe; He is not an object within it. I like C.S. Lewis' comparison: a human looking for God as an actual, physical object within the universe (a man in the sky) is like Hamlet looking in his attic for Shakespeare. Shakespeare does not exist within in plays, similar to how God does not exist within the universe. He exists outside of it.

      June 2, 2011 at 11:27 pm |
    • Evan

      "Religion has been proven wrong a plethora of times"

      How? By whom? This argument (if it can be called as such) is very weak. Could I not just as easily say "Atheism as been proven wrong a plethora of times"?

      "it's stories are just derived from stories passed on from earlier generations"

      Do you have evidence for this view? "Biblical scholars" don't. Many intelligent Christians, even a number of skeptics, have commented that this view is based on "assumption after assumption" and is not historically supported in any way.

      June 2, 2011 at 11:34 pm |
    • Kevin

      Aquinas' five ways have all been heavily criticized by mainstream thinkers even in his time, much less today.
      the first three arguments are essentially the same, and rely upon the idea of a regress to which God is unjustifiably immune;
      the fourth argument is applicable to a whole lot of other concepts;
      the fifth argument claims the necessity of a designer, considering that biological life looks somewhat designed, whereas evolution by means of natural selection explains its complexity and diversity.

      June 2, 2011 at 11:35 pm |
  18. Cesaer

    Only 3% of U.S population are MORMON's......... DO YOU THINK THAT WE'RE GOING TO WIN NEXT YEARS THE ELECTIONS FOR PRESIDENT??????.......... ONLY IN YOUR DREAMS.........

    June 2, 2011 at 11:07 pm |
  19. Patrick

    "I know that if Mitt Romney were elected that he would perform his duties as President of the United States of America without religious influence."

    Don't care...still wouldn't vote for him.

    June 2, 2011 at 11:07 pm |
    • Mike

      Still wouldn't vote for him because he's a Mormon, or because he has disagreeable political ideals? Dont get me wrong Patrick, I wouldn't vote for him just because he's a fellow Latter-Day Saint. I vote for a person based on their position on the issues that are facing us.

      June 2, 2011 at 11:14 pm |
  20. Mike

    It never ceases to amaze me the amount of intolerance, narrow-mindedness and ignorance (I know that's kind of redundant, but it gets my point across) our fellow citizens are capable of... especially now since we have a black president. You would think that some of that bigotry would have tapered off a little, but apparently not. Unfortunately the prejudices in this country are so abundant that bigotry will always win out over sensibility. The issue is only exacerbated by the mainstream media when they ask such questions as this particular CNN article does. It doesn't matter what our national leaders' beliefs are as long as they do their job. I am Mormon but wasn't always a Mormon. I used to be Presbyterian, and while the LDS Church (preferred name of the "Mormon Church") has differing points of view (what two Christian churches don't?), I can tell you that Mormons are more Christian than most self-proclaimed Christians want to believe. Without getting into details, essentially I joined the LDS Church because it teaches humility, understanding, compassion and many other desirable Christian traits without resorting to name-calling and spending the time, money and resources to discredit other beliefs. Members of the LDS Church, also called Latter-Day Saints, have a certain integrity about them when it comes to dealing with our fellow man. I know that if Mitt Romney were elected that he would perform his duties as President of the United States of America without religious influence.

    June 2, 2011 at 11:06 pm |
    • Kevin

      I'm sorry, but the Mormon church spends more money than any other denomination precisely on discrediting other peoples' beliefs. I don't think the LDS church is all bad, but they definitely have some issues, like an extremely sordid history, a high degree of exclusive elitism (which feeds the mainstream idea that they're a cult), and its fair share of indignant self-righteousness. Acting like it's the perfect religion is a bit far-fetched.

      June 2, 2011 at 11:16 pm |
    • Joey

      Yeah but the one place where a Mormon will get you is in the business sector. They have great family values etc. but are staunch conservatives and exude a stealthy demeanor that weirds me out. Its like they teach them to pick out those that know their profit was tired of a long wagon trip and found a pretty nice place in the spring ^^ Oh and obviously a racist perv. Just sayin....

      June 2, 2011 at 11:27 pm |
    • A. Dunn

      I live in Utah. I am not LDS. The Church saying that, " it's policy is to steer clear of electoral politics, " is pretty laughable. As for Romney, I will not vote for him because he is too conservative for me. And yes, his religious beliefs probably help shape some of his political beliefs–this isn't some new, astounding information about a correlation between the two.
      I really have no idea to vote for; they all kind of BITE A BIG ONE to me.

      June 2, 2011 at 11:27 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.