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. dee

    Who cares?

    June 2, 2011 at 4:36 pm |
    • anonmormoninidaho

      if you care about your right to freedom then you sould care. the mormon religion is very controlling and the more power they gain from people who buy into their friendly neighbor act you will see your freedoms slipping away.

      June 2, 2011 at 4:39 pm |
    • brad-ash

      only need read these comments to answer your question

      June 2, 2011 at 4:45 pm |
  2. anonmormoninidaho

    being a non mormon, living in Rexbug Idaho I have to say Mormons are not your friends and neighbors like the article describes . I have lived all over the country and never been treated so poorly as I have in this town. If religion matters to you as far as the election goes, study mormonism and you will see why we do not want Romney in office. They are most definitely a cult and a their so called religion is based on lies. I have no doubt he cannot separate church from state and hold true to his mormon values.

    June 2, 2011 at 4:35 pm |
    • Nonimus

      "...their so called religion is based on lies."
      How is this different than any other religion? For every religion there is someone who thinks it is a false religion.

      June 2, 2011 at 4:41 pm |
    • anonmormoninidaho

      I understand your point, but even athiests admit there is some evidence for the bible and Christ, altough they do not believe in a god or that Christ was anyting more than an average man. Mormonism however can be proven false. If you study it you will see what I mean.

      June 2, 2011 at 4:45 pm |
    • SurelyUjest

      I have to agree with you my neighbors are mormon and my mother in-law and brother in-law are mormons and they really hang together and do not mingle much with the rest of soceity. That being said my neighbors do say hello and good by and sometimes they play with my kids (not very often though). My Morman experience being married to an ex-mormon and working with their families is that they can be very liberal or very conservative in their political views which is interesting in itself. The Californian side of the LDS family is very liberal but the ID and UT sides are very conservative. As far as religion goes they are all based on mens fears, stories, political motivations and I do not care if those fears and stories were written 10K yrs ago or yesterday they are stilly myths. It is not different than believing in Zues, Posidon, Hera etc....IMO. I also do agree KEEP Religon OUT of politics.

      June 2, 2011 at 4:55 pm |
    • Nonimus

      "...even athiests admit there is some evidence for the bible and Christ, altough they do not believe in a god or that Christ was anyting more than an average man. Mormonism however can be proven false. If you study it you will see what I mean."

      So which religion is more false than the other? I couldn't say.

      June 2, 2011 at 5:02 pm |
  3. Abe

    I live and work just 90 miles from the center of the Mormon world. I know them well. They, as a group, are very secretive and exclusive. If you are not one of them then you will find it difficult to compete in the their business world. Should Romney be elected i can assure you most of his top advisors and cabinet members will be mormon.

    June 2, 2011 at 4:33 pm |
    • anonmormoninidaho

      well said! I am right their with you.

      June 2, 2011 at 4:36 pm |
    • Nonimus

      I suspect that would be politically unreasonable to expect.

      June 2, 2011 at 4:37 pm |
    • Ummm

      So it is not a spiritual belief thing... not much different than Mr. Obama and his Chicago, liberal clique advising the executive branch, is it?"

      June 2, 2011 at 4:42 pm |
    • harry

      Stupid comment. There is no way he would get away with this, not to mention he governed Massachusetts a very not Mormon state. Chances are the guy has connections with a lot of powerful people who are not LDS, because (gasp) Mormons actually do associate with people who are not Mormon. Shocking to someone as ignorant as you, I know.

      June 2, 2011 at 4:44 pm |
    • SurelyUjest

      @ummmm actually it is a lot different than haveing Obama's "chicago" friends advise him. They all come from different religous back grounds and have many other influences regarding economics, business etc.....your comparison is way to far off base to be taken seriously.

      June 2, 2011 at 4:48 pm |
    • Emy

      Um, Harry Reid is Mormon. I don't see you freaking out about that...

      June 2, 2011 at 5:36 pm |
    • Abe

      Emy, Harry Reid is not the president nor is he running for president. Having a few Morons (whoops I guess I spelled that wrong) in office is not the end of the world, but having one of them be president certainly is a disturbing thought.

      June 2, 2011 at 5:52 pm |
    • Doug

      Secret and allusive? I find the exact opposite to be true.

      June 2, 2011 at 11:37 pm |
  4. mediahater101

    Why in the world would someone even ask this question? The media talks about the bigots here in American and look at who is actually egging on that type of thinking! Didn't the media make a the same big deal about JFK being a Catholic??. Because of the headline, a person glancing at it is led to think there is something different about the Mormons that we should be concerned about! Nice teaser, you sure got a reaction out of me! (I’m Lutheran by the way if that matters to you bigots).

    June 2, 2011 at 4:33 pm |
    • Amber

      Excellent point.

      June 2, 2011 at 4:36 pm |
    • brad-ash

      Are you kidding? Read history text. Yes it was a big deal about Kennedy being a Catholic. It was a big deal about Obama being first black.

      June 2, 2011 at 4:40 pm |
  5. jim

    Faith is just a hiding place for those who do not accept reality.

    June 2, 2011 at 4:33 pm |
  6. Amber

    The premise of this article is ridiculous. I don't believe it should be relevant whether the President is religious or not. I think competency should be the test.

    June 2, 2011 at 4:32 pm |
    • Nonimus

      I disagree, just reading some of the comments here verifies that the question is not irrelevant.

      June 2, 2011 at 4:39 pm |
    • anonmormoninidaho

      really? so when Romney gets elected and his mormon government takes away your individual rights are you still going to be saying that? Your comment proves that not enough is known about the mormon religion and what a cult it is.

      June 2, 2011 at 4:42 pm |
    • karen

      Well said!

      June 2, 2011 at 4:46 pm |
    • Nonimus

      "so when Romney gets elected and his mormon government takes away your individual rights..."
      Romney being elected does not allow him to alter the Consti.tution, where the more important rights are located.

      June 2, 2011 at 4:54 pm |
  7. John

    I just don't see this as that big an issue. It really goes to his leadership capabilities. We went though this in 1960 with Kennedy and the big issue was his Catholicism. We'd never had a Catholic president. He won the election and is now regarded as one of our great presidents. So why not give the man a chance? Anything would be better than what we have now.

    June 2, 2011 at 4:32 pm |
    • Amber

      I completely agree. This is one of the only coherent comments on this message board.

      June 2, 2011 at 4:34 pm |
    • Emy

      Well said- I completely agree with you.

      June 2, 2011 at 5:35 pm |
  8. Julie

    I really stop listening when politician start talking about whose fault this mess is. We need solutions not the same old rhetoric from their particular party. Stop bashing and start telling us what your solution is not what you think we want to hear or what everyone else in the Republican party is saying but how you will make the difference!

    June 2, 2011 at 4:31 pm |
    • nobama

      the only guy really blaming is the idiot president when he swings his head side to side when he reads his teleprompter.

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

    question, how much did he pay to have his sons exempted from serving in the Armed Foces, need a s erious answer directly from big head mitt..............

    June 2, 2011 at 4:31 pm |
    • SurelyUjest

      Did they claim religious beliefs as their reason? if so he paid nothing it is legal usually they serve in back like units but we don't have a draft anymore.

      June 2, 2011 at 4:33 pm |
    • dj

      when was the draft – brought back? Think before you write

      June 2, 2011 at 4:36 pm |
    • Nonimus

      I think it is Mitt himself that you are referring to. He avoided the draft, if I understand correctly, by doing missionary work and attending college. He was in the draft once but got lucky and wasn't selected.

      June 2, 2011 at 5:40 pm |
  10. Jim

    Let's face it, any of you people who believe in ANY mystical deity-like figure are smoking something. Believe in God, Santa Claus or little green men – they are all delusional so on that basis Obama and Romney start onan even playing field.

    June 2, 2011 at 4:31 pm |
  11. Cathy

    The thing that makes me uneasy about having elected officails from certain religious groups is that, being female, I'm not sure a person who suscribes to a set of beliefs that does not permit a woman to occupy the highest leadership posts in the organization is going to promote policies in my best interests.

    June 2, 2011 at 4:30 pm |
    • SurelyUjest

      This is one reason my wife left LDS and had her name stricken from the books......women are supposed to be totally subserviant in the Morman belief. I realize that in actual practice that does not happen but all the major religions indicated someplace that women are not "fit, designed, up to" the same tasks as a man. I will not support any religion that puts women on a different mostly lower level than a man and I am a man.

      June 2, 2011 at 4:36 pm |
    • mb2010a

      SurelyUjest: This sounds remarkably like the Republican platform and their view toward women. Hmmmm.

      June 2, 2011 at 4:51 pm |
  12. Largo Barbara

    we can't afford his extended family. the Secret Service budget for this clan would be out of sight.

    June 2, 2011 at 4:29 pm |
  13. Terry Moore

    No Mormon President ! First, look at facts...Mormons start as a sect..If they had started their movement in the 1950's, everyone would be equating them with Reverend Moon or any other sect with odd beliefs. That they started in the 1820's does not take away from the fact that what they base their dogmas upon is pure invention on the part of a somewhat deranged preacher (who even claimed to walk on water... disproved, fortunately). Come on...The Angel Moroni, the Gold Tablets that no one ever saw, the story of the Hebrews coming to America...??? Does no one care about how incoherent all this is ?
    Then look at the fact that they were (and probably still are) the most racist of all American faiths, as a matter of DOGMA...Few other faiths have hated Black people as much as the Mormons. Then look at the fact that they agreed to stop the "let me marry all these young pretty girls" habit ONLY because of the need for Utah to become a State.. Otherwise, they'd still be "doing it" ( as some are)... Dangerous people under a veneer of respectability.. The Founding Fathers separated Curch and State, even if this is less and less apparent with the likes of Palin and Romney... Let's keep it that way !

    June 2, 2011 at 4:29 pm |
    • Jim

      and your faith is better precisely why? Doesn't the God of the Old Testament (who is exactly the same as the God of the New Testament) demand animal sacrifices and commits mass murder (the Flood)? Some role model that is...

      June 2, 2011 at 4:33 pm |
    • mary

      Wow you sure do know your facts (not). It is classy people like you that contribute to such ignorance. You call the Mormons racist yet you list off a laundry list of (not well researched might I add) 'facts' that give you reason to discriminate against millions of people who belong to the Mormon church? How do you justify that? And how many Mormons do you actually know?

      June 2, 2011 at 4:35 pm |
    • SurelyUjest

      @Mary – I never see people of color at the temples in my area....then again I live in Minnesota and we are a huge majority of caucasions in general.

      June 2, 2011 at 4:38 pm |
    • Lin

      In my LDS congregation there are African American, Native American, Central and South American, Mexican, Indian, Chinese, and Pakistani members. Kind of puts a dent in your racism claims.

      June 2, 2011 at 7:47 pm |
  14. brad-ash

    It matters to me. Mormons have stood for bigotry.

    June 2, 2011 at 4:28 pm |
    • SurelyUjest

      It would be my opinion that the LDS have stood for bigotry no less than any of the other major religions. Which makes me basically revile the Western Cultures abrahamic beliefs in general.

      June 2, 2011 at 4:40 pm |
    • Doug

      After having read this article and some of the comments, I have to disagree.

      June 2, 2011 at 11:41 pm |
  15. carlos

    and you billhiller, you are a parasite

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

    Seriously? This is about as relevant as asking if America is ready for a black president- IT DOESN'T MATTER.

    I don't know why people somehow think that Romney would turn the whole country Mormon... not only did he NOT do that in Massachusetts, but there's this whole thing called the Legislative Branch... you know, Congress? Pretty sure they aren't going to turn the country Mormon, either.

    Although it is worth mentioning- Harry Reid is Mormon. OOH, SCARY MORMONS.

    I really don't understand why it isn't ok to be bigoted against gays, different races, etc.... but it's ok to be bigoted towards Mormons. What hypocrisy.

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

      Well said! I love pointing out to liberal Democrats that Reid is an active Mormon

      June 2, 2011 at 4:40 pm |
    • KatyinCA

      Very well stated Emy.

      June 2, 2011 at 4:48 pm |
  17. Ummm

    The current chief executive may be a Muslim with a Christian veneer or may be a Christian with an Muslim veneer. Mr. Romney is a Mormon. The chameleon vs. the known.

    June 2, 2011 at 4:25 pm |
    • tom

      well said. America was ready for a president with no real experience in anything.

      June 2, 2011 at 4:30 pm |
    • Ummm

      I pray that America can survive its dalliance with smooth-talking incompetence.

      June 2, 2011 at 4:36 pm |
    • mb2010a

      Tom: Well, they voted George W. Bush into office for eight years...

      June 2, 2011 at 4:56 pm |
  18. carlos

    has anyone noticed the size of his head??????must be from the constant nagging from his wives, by the way which one told him to run????ok girls do not fight for that........

    June 2, 2011 at 4:25 pm |
    • KatyinCA

      Carlos – what you said can be considered by some to be funny – I guess the polygamy thing will always be in the air – but you are saying something that is not true. One man + one woman. End of story. I could not be a member if this were not so.

      June 2, 2011 at 4:36 pm |
  19. Unfrozen Caveman

    “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.”

    Purdy may call it "faith," however the fastest growing segment (non-religious/atheists) in the US would more likely call it "delusion."

    Its is sad in a nation that holds to the principal of "no religious test" to hold office still clings to the idea that a person of faith in a magical sky dweller is better than a person with no faith who relies on logic, science, the real world and the here-and-now instead of the here-after.

    June 2, 2011 at 4:24 pm |
    • KatyinCA

      You can choose to not believe but don't you dare mock the believers. Typical "progressive" – if I don't share your beliefs I must be a moron. Lack of respect for others' views is at the root of America's problems.

      June 2, 2011 at 4:43 pm |
  20. billhiller

    why not a mormon? we have a muslim now.

    June 2, 2011 at 4:21 pm |
    • Unfrozen Caveman

      Keep listening to Fox. What about the "evangelical" in-name only from 2000-2008?

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

      Better a Muslim than a Christian who bares false witness.

      June 2, 2011 at 7:15 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.