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.
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.
I will NEVER vote for a mormon ! How many wives does Romney have anyway? What does his magical pants look like?
funny you should ask....he's had only one wife. And John McCain? Like 3 or 4....
Actually, Romney is about the cleanest guy in politics. Not only McCain, but John Edwards, Bill Clinton, Newt Gingrich and many others have ruined their families. Romney is one of the better when it comes to wives.
Isn't it ironic that the most intolerant people on this board are the religious ones. The first to cast a stone?
Anyone that believes in a religion needs to have their heads checked. Can you honestly tell me that it is logical (if not laughable) to believe that some guy walked on water, died and then came back to life and floated up to space, that another guy survived being in a 'fish' for three days, that one man split a sea in half, and another guy was able to get 2 of every animal on Earth into a boat for 40 days?!! That is insane – the Santa Claus story is more plausible! Oh, and that all of this happened in the past but conveniently no longer occurs. Nice.
When we as a society can realize that we all believe crazy things (even us atheists) then maybe we can focus on the candidate and his/her abilities to do the job rather than obsess over whether he/she believes the same way about the supernatural.
Personally, I think Romney's expertise in business would be great considering that his experience and strong points are exactly what our country needs right now.
The guy walking on water? Totally believe it. You liking Romney and being able to set aside religions beliefs and focus on only politics? That is about as American as it gets. I may be about as Mormon as it gets, but I COMPLETELY agree with you on that last point. Don't vote for or against someone based on religion. Vote for or against someone based on politics and policies. Voting for or against someone based on religious beliefs or lack thereof is un-american. I'd vote for an Athiest any day if she had the right politics for me!
What our country needs is more of you and the guy who posted above. It's nice to know others actually do research before voting. Not to mention hearing a religious person say they'd vote for an atheist just restored my faith in America a bit.
Attacking the guy already based on his personal faith and beliefs. Way to go CNN. Nothing like more biased reporting.
duh ! When your religion is as weird as Romney's he better get use to being made fun of and not winning the White House!
Joseph Smith is liar. Simple as that. How he ever convinced people to follow him across the West is beyond me. He didn't "find" the book of Mormon. He wrote it.
Yeah! (torch and pitchfork in hand). Yeah! For more 'bout them "mormons" go to mormon.org
Be that as it may, I'm not holding anything against Romney. One thing that I am proud of is I don't vote "bible" when it comes to politics. As far as a presidential candidate goes, his morals, and plans to run the country, religion should have absolutely nothing to do with it. People who vote for others into office solely based on their religion are in the wrong, and you know it. Judge the man, not his faith.
So you are saying you'll vote for Romney if you like his politics? That, my friend, IS about as American as it gets and I commend you for it. Freedom of religion was one of the founding principles of this nation. Let him believe what he wants, and don't vote him in or out based on religion. You can disagree with Mormonism all you want, but to not vote for someone ONLY because he is Mormon is extremely un-american.
If I had a decision about anything when it comes to election campaigns, I wouldn't allow the candidate's faith to be mentioned. Unfortunately, there is a decent minority of people out there now-a-days who look at little else....makes me so mad! GRRRR
I find it hilarious when people say that Mormons aren't christian. The name of their church is The Church of Jesus Christ Of Latter Day Saints, and they donate more man hours and money and goods when there are disasters, than any other religion in the world. They are the first on the scene donating food and help, and offer up their churches for people to stay in when tornadoes, earthquakes, and hurricanes hit. If they aren't Christians, then no one else in the world is either.
Such an excellent point, I agree!
WRONG ! CHRISTIANS do not believe in the same things as mormons.we do not have magic pants or multi wives like the mormons do
TOdd: what gets me is that you all believe in a Bible where men had multiple wives....remember the 12 tribes if Israel...yeah...not the same Mother. HA! For the record, its been 100 + years since Mormons stopped practicing polygamy....?? are we over that yet?
The US already had a mormon president,George W Bush! Oh wait.....He was a Moron! My bad!
You bet this country is ready for a Mormon president! Mormons have excellent work values, ethics, and are great people. It's about time we have another leader who has morals!!
(like button) wait a minute...I though Huckabee hated Mormons....
I love how everyone gets all fired-up over whose fiction is better! I don't belong to any political party or organized religion so this is all just silliness to me. So Romney's church does proxy baptism for dead people and they wear religious underwear. Is that really weirder than believing in demonic possession and exorcism? Or believing you eat the literal body of Jesus? Or believing that the bible is the literal infallible word of God? Or all the miracles, angels, prophets, immaculate conception, hell, heaven, purgatory, limbo, etc, etc, etc. If believing in ridiculous fantasy doctrines disqualifies a person from running for president than no one would be allowed to run. How about we vote for candidates based on qualifications and let them keep their religious beliefs out of it.
95% of the people in America believe in a God, whatever religion it is represented in. Actually, Atheists are the smallest minority in this country. The African American, Asian, Catholic, Hispanic, etc.... vote dwarfs them. So who cares what they think. If you don't like it, move somewhere else. Plenty of poor communist atheist countries need worker drones.
Why are you asking about a Mormon candidate here CNN. You never asked about a muslim president if I remember correctly. You still don't, so cease and desist with the slanted journalism and I use that phrase with tongue firmly planted in my cheek. Try to return to that long past day of reporting news with the fervor of delivering news that allowed the reader to make up their own mind – yeah, I know, for the most of you on CNN that is a foreign concept. At least the lumber industry is making a living out of this as they are the ones supplying the 2×4's needed to prop you up from falling over to the left whenever you wander out from behind your desk.
haha, love your humor!
You Said: "Why are you asking about a Mormon candidate here CNN. You never asked about a muslim president if I remember correctly."
Hmm... Interesting. I believe the media (including the conservative media) asked time and again about our current President...."Is America ready for a 'Black' President...?" "Is he 'really a Muslim...?" Oh, and let's not forget the wonderful 'birther's' who 'still' don't believe that Obama is a legal citizen.
And as for the news media asking about some unknown, Muslim President... Who would that be...? Especially anyone in the past that would have had any credibility in terms of a possibility of winning...?
Please name some that the media, such as CNN left out... I am curious...?
There are actual problems facing our nation, none of which have anything to do with a candidates faith.
I am up for a debate about religion and Mormonism. The thing I find it hardest to get behind is that they call themselves Christians, but seem to consider a book Smith created to be of more relevance than the Bible.
Katy, I think your point is good, but as a college age Mormon myself, I have to ask the question I always think about when people ask me if I'm Christian: Isn't the very definition of a Christian a follower of Christ, or a person who believes in Him as the Lord and Savior of the world? Mormons place equal emphasis on both books of scripture(the Holy Bible and the Book of Mormon), but I don't think it's fair for pastors and others to "draw a line in the sand" and say that people who believe certain things are Christians, while other followers of Christ who don't believe those things are not Christians. I have a strong belief in Jesus Christ as my Savior and Redeemer–when people say, or suggest, that I'm not Christian, it just baffles me and makes me a tad angry.
Your take on Mormonism is wrong. Mormons believe strongly in the bible, and the Book of Mormon is accompanying scripture. Joseph Smith did not invent the book as you suggest, it was given to him by revelation. You should try reading it sometime, and stop saying things that aren't true.
All books of the Bible were written the same way. The Book Of Mormon was just written a lot later.
Not really, Katy. The Book of Mormon and the Bible have the same importance in the LDS (Mormon) faith. Yours is a misconception.
Members of the LDS Church don't think that the Bible is any less important than the Book of Mormon. In Sunday School we study the Old Testament one year, The New Testament the next, The Book of Mormon the next and the Doctrine and Covenants the next. It's split equally. The church uses all scriptures, and quite honestly the Bible is used more frequently than you'd probably expect. We don't force anyone to believe what we do. We don't force anyone to do anything. We also don't go around bashing on other people's religion. (Not that you are, just as a comment). What burns me is when people – "Christians" get down-right mean about a religion they know very little about (again this is a general statement). My feeling is that Christ would want people to be accepted for whatever choice they want to make.
Having read extensively about Mormonism, I find it very difficult to reconcile the faith with American values. Joseph Smith's revelation claims that Native Americans are the evil descendants of Israelites. The history of Mormonism is extremely racist, and, despite the diversity present today in the Mormon population, I am unable to support a group that has such deep roots in prejudicial claims. Mitt Romney's bid for the presidency is an excellent invitation to a conversation about the place of conflicting religions in the American nation. However, to put such a person in charge of the nation would be a violation of the American dream. I respect Mormons and their right to worship freely, but cannot support a practicing Mormon for the presidency.
Hey Susan, what religion other than Christian would you support? Islam? Hindu? Just asking, as they all have baggage. People were different back when these books were written. Unfortunately, some modern day peeps still want to practice the old ways, like the hard like Muslims in Iran and other countries in the middle east.
a leader who practices a faith that does not teach love and equality is a direct reflection of his character or lack of...
As far as I know, that's all Mormonism teaches. Have you ever met a hateful Mormon? I haven't.
I can't say the Mormons I worked with were 'hateful' per se, but they were very prejudicial and cabal-like, protecting their own incompent members at the expense of non-Mormons who were more capable at that company. Oh yeah, some of them were shameless liars too.
Mormons as a group accomplished remarkable feats of settlement in remote Utah locales. They practiced a very pure form of Communism within their religion, with very good socialist practices providing for the less fortunate among them. But they did so by donating 10% of their wealth and 50% of their time to their church and in aiding each other.
My opinion of their religion is that it is a hilarious collection of ignorant "bible-babble" by Mr Smith, himself a convicted con-man. But then my opinion of religion in general is that it is delusional thinking left over from the cave-man days.
rob has a good point, but he's missing the point of the article. The article is about MORMONS...not about the people he's describing.
America is definitely ready (aka..stupid enough) to elect a Mormon president. For sure.
Yeah. They shouldn't kid themselves – the Mormon thing is a huge problem for Romney.
i dont care if the president belives in a damn thing other than life liberty and the pursuit of happiness. screw religion it has been the prime cause for war and destruction since man created it to controlt he masses. we need someone strong and noble who actually cares about what the people need and how to get this economy back on track. this country is so split between left and right and whos god is better than whos like give me a break lets worry on the things that matter while were still alive to worry about them
My only concern about this guy so far, is what he said about state sponsored medical care in MA. He said he did what he felt was right. Heck we already got that in Obama. When we will get a candidate who will say that he will do what the people want??????
"America" is not ready for a mormon president! Nor do I believe the people of America will vote for a mormon especially if they have any color to their skin. Mormons have the stupid belief that people of ANY COLOR were not really "human" until some time in June of 1979, so I wonder what I was in May of 1979? Whatever people of color were in May of 1979, we should be again as far as mormons are concerned NOT voting for a mormon to lead this very diverse country!
Sherri your religion believes that the earth was created in 7 days..............are you really that much more intelligent?
Sherry, you are spot on wrong. I'm a Mormon, and I have never thought badly about blacks. My younger brother (19) always jokes that he wishes he was black because he has a lot of black friends and admires them. I'm a huge proponent of diversity because I think we can all learn from each other's backgrounds and upbringings. And the 1979 thing that you refer to is a widely-populated misconception and distortion. Yes, it is true that blacks weren't granted some of the same benefits as whites until 1979, (that was wrong) but unfortunately, many other churches, including Catholics, were doing some of the same things at the time. It took the civil rights movement to help many churches see the errors of their ways.
Mormons look down there nose at everyone who is not of there faith, i found this out while visiting that crapshot of a state a few years ago, I thought I was going to be crusified for buy a case of beer (which is almost imposible to find in your theocratic state) the dirty looks I got from people where hilarious.....I'm such a heathen for working my a$$ off and living my life the way I want that I surely will burn in hell for my sins of consuming alcohol......grow a brain you tards and learn to think for yourself rather than out of some fantasy book written by some guy that want to start a cult.......Mormons you stay in Utah and let the rest of us in this country live in peace and not have to hear from you .... and to answer the question of this article NO I am not ready for a Mormon to be president......thank you for your time.
Please check your history before making these types of blanket statements. Your statement simply isn't true and only spreads misconceptions about my faith. The fact is that there were people of color who were members of the church in the 1800's and were treated as equals with other members.
Vote for whoever you like, but please chose a candidate that best flects your political beliefs and not your religious ones. I know that's what I'm going to do.
FYI–Just so you know, most of the Mormons in the U.S. in fact live OUTSIDE of the state of Utah– (think Las Vegas, Arizona, California, Idaho, and every other state in the Union). And more Mormons now live outside of the United States than inside of it.
But, I definitely understand what you're saying. Anytime a large group of people of the same faith coalesce and become the majority in a geographical area, certain biases and prejudices develop. It's not right, but it's just natural and happens. (Think Southern Baptists in Atlanta and other Southern states). Sorry that you had a bad experience in Utah, though. You have a right to live as you'd like without judgment from anyone.
wow...so yeah...if you want to know what Mormons really believe I suggest mormon.org....this post is a little far fetched. Not human? yeah.....
I will prove you Mormons wrong again using actual source or what we like to call "facts" you won't find those anywhere in the books you're used to reading
check out this link http://www.bestplaces.net/default.aspx and click on the state of utah and then under the religious tab......65% of the nations mormons live in Utah......... also on that page show the total percent of people in this country that are Mormon which is 1.66% and LDS in Arizona which you claim is so high is only 5.08% the state of Arizona ....... please educate yourself, I know how you Mormons like to think you know everything but .... YA DONT
I think its amazing how much people will scrutinize a candidates personal life but won't even take the time to read the key legislation that are being drafted/voted on by the very people they elect. wow!
If we are still asking "is America ready for a [choose your label] president" then apparently we aren't or just really need to get our priorities in order. The guy's a Mormon, okay great, big deal. Look at his competency, integrity, and political views and then decide if you want to vote for him or not. If the only reason you will or will not vote for him is purely on the grounds of his religion, please leave my country.
Would you say the same of a Scientologist? Or a member of Hamas?
Religion is the problem. Tolerating psychosis because you don't have the guts to point out the insanity of religion is pathetic.
Hamas is not a religion, you idiot.
Scientologist: yes but I'd still think they're completely nuts.
Hamas: last time I checked was a terrorist organization, not a religion (and not in the U.S).
Do I think religion is weird? Absolutely. i cannot fathom how people believe some of that stuff. However I do not believe every religious person is some psychotic danger that must be controlled and religions of all kind be eliminated. Worry about the extremist and fundies, the vast majority of the rest and aren't going to hurt you.
I believe America is ready for a leader. His religion doesn't matter and it shows how far down the rung CNN goes to cook up a story. Dem or Rep doesn't matter either. Making America strong again does.