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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. Jason T

    Like any group there are those who do well and do what they should and there are some defects. I'm not going to tell you what I think about Harry Reid but I would say most all Mormons haven't agreed with him.

    Mormons are faithful, loving people. I feel sorry for those who like to categorize and demonize good people without understanding them nor their beliefs. Doesn't everyone deserve respect, and freedom from bigotry, persecution and lies.

    Romney is sound, he has fundamentals, and a strong conservative agenda. Give him the chance any candidate deserves and you'll be pleasantly surprised. (His record shows it)

    -Your Friendly Christian

    June 2, 2011 at 11:37 pm |
    • Kevin

      The "strong conservative agenda" is what alarms and concerns me more than his religious beliefs, which I honestly couldn't care less about. The last thing this country needs at this point is a leader that pushes fear-mongering, ignorance, intolerance, control, and regressive social policies.

      June 2, 2011 at 11:48 pm |
  2. adam

    I think it's time we had an atheist in the white house. To heck with all this fairytale crap.

    June 2, 2011 at 11:37 pm |
    • Joe the pedo

      +1 to you, good sir.

      June 2, 2011 at 11:38 pm |
  3. DEEJ

    "his Mormon faith scared off Republican voters". Pretty much sums up the republican party.

    June 2, 2011 at 11:37 pm |
  4. Popol-Vuh

    Funny thing about faith and belief... So, if Jesus said He is the way, the truth and the life and that He had come to accomplish the Word of God according to what is written in the Bible then, why the LDS missionaries say (specially when the Bible says something opposite to their belief), that the bible is inaccurate? isn't that contradictory to what most Christians believe in America? By the way, the devil always is looking to twist the truth to his convenience to try to deceive us (as in Genesis and as Jesus 40 days temptation in the desert), so the question stands: is Mitt Rommey going to make decisions following his twisted belief or is he going to stand for what is right?

    June 2, 2011 at 11:35 pm |
    • Jimbo

      He won't know what is right. He will only believe and do what he is told. That is what is really scarry. This belief system destroys all logic and reason and you only advance by playing follow the leader. There are no free thinking Mormons. If they were free to think, they would not be Mormons.

      June 2, 2011 at 11:47 pm |
  5. frank

    Their womens have vibrant healthy hair. There must be something to this Mormon stuff. Count me in!

    June 2, 2011 at 11:34 pm |
  6. Annexian

    No Mormons.

    Let them stick to the armpit of the country and have their own little world there.

    Don't get me wrong, hardly any Mormons I've met I didn't like -even as they stabbed me in the back. But tolerance and acceptance are different things. Don't care if they follow a false god set up by con artist treasure hunter who wanted multiple brides and wealth and power in a world largely full of poverty and drudgery, I admire his b-lls. But, really, it's Co$ – 100 years. It's nucking Futz and a stupid lie. Really, do people live on the SUN!? Oh, dos "Mon" mean "Good" in Ancient Egyptian? Uh, nope. Well, it wasn't translated when he said that, and many scholars had thought it never would, so a safe and fashionable lie for a mystic charlatan. What about that ancient civilization in America that at least since it's not Antediluvian should be as prominent as Ancient Rome? You know, the one made by WHITE people who the inferior, devil worshiping RED ones genocided?

    Mormons are a threat to America.

    They want us to "Tolerate and Accept" them, but it's a one-sided trip. They really want to out-breed us and take us over and we'll be second class citizens if we don't convert, and even then recent converts will still be less in their hierarchy. A few powerful men will F- all the prettiest of women, leaving us the dogs and they'll ban 'adult' material from even the internet when they get around to it, despite being the LARGEST user state of online "adult" traffic!!!

    Dare you, double dog DARE you to look up the South Park episode on Mormons!!!a

    June 2, 2011 at 11:34 pm |
    • Gabe N. Asher

      South Park is a comedic show, you're going to believe everything you hear on it?

      But in my own opinion I agree with you; in fact, I don't think we should even have a Christian president at all.

      June 2, 2011 at 11:37 pm |
    • Xugos

      Mormons are a threat to America, Muslims are a threat to America, Gays are a threat to AMerica, Mexicans are a threat to America, Blacks are a threat to America, Liberals are a threat to America.

      Pretty much sums up the Republican party of the past 10 years.

      June 2, 2011 at 11:39 pm |
  7. RobertW

    Let me save some of you a bit of trouble. The following comments have already been posted countless times (and not just in this article's comment section). They are not funny, witty or original. They are dumb.

    "We already elected a Muslim president, so why not?"

    "I don't want a president who believes in magic underpants" or any "magic underpants" related post.

    "Which of his wives would be the first lady?"

    OK? You're welcome.

    June 2, 2011 at 11:34 pm |
    • An Atheist’s Perspective

      You forgot the one about Bush and dropping the second "m" from "Mormon".

      June 2, 2011 at 11:40 pm |
    • RobertW

      @An Athiest's Perspective
      Yes, that comment should have been on the list as well.

      June 2, 2011 at 11:50 pm |
  8. caliboy

    I'm ready for Warren Jeffs to be President

    June 2, 2011 at 11:32 pm |
  9. Allen

    CNN : "As governor of Utah, he .... broke with his church in signing a law allowing civil unions for gay couples."
    Nice reporting CNN. The LDS Church actually supports civil unions.

    http://www.ksl.com/?sid=9167222&nid=148

    June 2, 2011 at 11:32 pm |
  10. Aaron

    Despite all the PC and sweet talk, most non-Mormons view it as cult whose members look out for each other only.

    June 2, 2011 at 11:31 pm |
  11. Bill

    No. Mormons are nothing more than a cult that happened to grow into a recognized religion. But then, again, you could say that about all religion. It's just that Mormons are most recent than most. I'm going to go dig up some tablets now, translate them with some magic stones and dictate them to someone standing behind a curtain. Yeah, right!

    June 2, 2011 at 11:28 pm |
    • Jimbo

      Dont forget that the one in the other room behind the curtain had a dubious reputation himself for fortune telling and peep stone viewing. Not to mention that all three of the so called witnesses to the divine inspiration of this book denied their testimony later in their lives. I support free will and a persons right to believe whatever they want. But I don't necessarily want that person who believes in a lot of whacko things to be president.

      June 2, 2011 at 11:40 pm |
  12. 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 11:26 pm |
  13. Kenton

    God is not real, well at least what most perceive "God" to be. God is an explanation of things we cannot explain nor understand. Religions are just derived from people who think their answer to "the great question" is true. Elect an atheist and see this country prosper and evolve like it never has.

    June 2, 2011 at 11:25 pm |
    • Kyle

      You just made my day. Elect someone who can be 100% focused on their job and not be skewed by garbage beliefs in an imaginary figure. There is no such thing as a deity, the sooner people come to realize there is no proof behind a "god" the better off this world will be.

      June 2, 2011 at 11:29 pm |
    • An Atheist’s Perspective

      I think the comments for "Is America ready for an Atheist president" would probably crash the blog, though reading that would guarantee to be entertaining. Also, not a chance. Or at least not for a long, long time.

      June 2, 2011 at 11:32 pm |
    • Bill

      How true.

      June 2, 2011 at 11:35 pm |
    • Kevin

      Oh, if only.

      June 2, 2011 at 11:50 pm |
  14. Ill Omen

    osro

    There is absolutely no chance I could ever vote for someone who believes in the garbage that Mormons believe.
    June 2, 2011 at 11:22 pm

    June 2, 2011 at 11:24 pm |
    • Kyle

      Why not? As long as he leaves his religion out of the Oval Office, as all presidents should since America has no national or ruling religion (separation of church and state), and you believe he's the best candidate apart from his religion, why not?!

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

      But you vote for someone who believes in what Islam teaches.They are both nuts.But at least the mormons are not shooting at us or blowing things up

      June 2, 2011 at 11:31 pm |
    • Bill

      You're another one of those fools, Sammy boy...

      June 2, 2011 at 11:36 pm |
    • Dale

      The one we have now is a Muslim.

      June 2, 2011 at 11:37 pm |
    • Kyle

      Sam: If he was the best candidate to run our country and happened to be Muslim, I sure would vote for him. Although, I would prefer an atheist, as I have said before.

      June 2, 2011 at 11:43 pm |
  15. osro

    There is absolutely no chance I could ever vote for someone who believes in the garbage that Mormons believe.

    June 2, 2011 at 11:22 pm |
    • Kyle

      Why not? As long as he leaves his religion out of the Oval Office, as all presidents should since America has no national or ruling religion (separation of church and state), and you believe he's the best candidate apart from his religion, why not?

      June 2, 2011 at 11:24 pm |
    • Yasmin

      garbage????what garbage?

      June 2, 2011 at 11:31 pm |
  16. willie

    Separation of church and state? Not in America!

    June 2, 2011 at 11:21 pm |
  17. Dale

    Hmmmm The one we have now is a Muslim.

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

      Apparently, there's a quite a few fools who believe the same as you do...

      June 2, 2011 at 11:38 pm |
  18. carolyn

    I sorta liberated a Mormon bible from a Marriot Hotel in DC. Boy that thing is full of crazy stuff that made me think Mormans are more than tad off their collective rockers. This thing talked about this Prophet named Maroni or maccaroni who was supposed to be some kind of a sage /soothesayer. I kinda nodded off after all the bupkus about how this Maroni and indians and Jews in South America migrated up to North America. Somehow all this nonsense wound up with Joseph Smith;the founder of the Morman church) digging for gold in this dirt mound where he was supposed to have found the Book of Morman somehwhere up in Palmira, Elmira or Elvira New York. I think they got run out of a couple of places and some how wound up in Utah for marrying off young girls to a bunch of old geezer's. I'm sure I have a coupla books mixed up with their bible and maybe a book Joseph Smith wrote; but I think anybody dumb enough to believe this crap probably got some screws loose in the ole noggin. But, alas this is America and we are free to believe any kind of nonsense we want. Obama 2012!

    June 2, 2011 at 11:21 pm |
  19. Cesaer

    ....................W E A R E H I R I N G................ (Just apply people like GEORGE W BUSH)
    POSITION: FOR PRESIDENT 2012
    REQUIREMENT: JUST BE A NORMAL U.S.A CITIZEN.
    PLUS: BE LIKE GEORGE W BUSH
    PLEASE DON'T APPLY, MORMONS, OLD FA RTS, AND MENOPAUSE LAIDIES.

    June 2, 2011 at 11:19 pm |
  20. Andrew

    Everyone seems to think Mormons are all conservative Republicans. There is a very high profile Democrat who is a Mormon as well – Senate majority leader Harry Reid.

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

      I'm liberal, but honestly, I wouldn't want him as president either...

      June 2, 2011 at 11:41 pm |
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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.