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 WANT MULTIPLE WIVES!!! VOTE 'YES' FOR ROMNEY!!!
I am a mormon, and see things outside the box. The religion proclaims to be perfect, it is not. They blame man is not perfect, its a cop out. And in this faith there are plenty of them. There is also a tradition of candidacy within the church that does more harm than good. There are no trained clergy, and incompetent men trying to play god just does not cut it. "you cant try and do something that is simply impossible" A mormon president both intrigues and alarms. The upside to mormonism is that it develops upright, devout, and a good people. The downside is in leadership, it just attracts too many power hungry, narcissists. I would also fear such narcist actions could model a presidents behavior into not making rational and just decisions. Mormonism is a cult, plain and simple. But so are many a religions.
Mormon faith was founded on the occult, and cult practices. The mormon temple is a modern example that such practices co-exist with the church today. And because it is a cult I would also fear that such president would answer to a higher power than the American people, I would fear such person may also confuse the god that leads him to do good with mormon manipulative leadership. These would be my fears or concerns. These concerns may or may not apply to Mitt Romney. There is no saying what character, or integrity he holds.
For these concerns to become resolved would probably require the mormon church to evolve another century in about a years time.
Until the early 1970's part of the Mormon philosophy was that about where it says in the bible that Cain, "went to the land of Nod and took a wife". Adam & Eve, Cain & Able were supposedly the only people in the world at the time. To explain where Cain got a wife in the land of Nod, the Mormon answer was that he married an ape and that's where black people came from. This was actually part of their official belief until the 70's. Really intelligent religion eh?
And the majority of the US prison population give credence to this claim does it?
@T – True, look it up.
Frank, glad you feel that way, one less Becky in my back yard.
All we need is more religious weirdos in office! If we got these idiots who think religion should play a part in our government the world would be a better place.
Mormon, why not; but Romney, no way!
Wow, this is considered news worthy? Focusing on a candidate's faith? I never understood why it mattered to begin with. All organized religion is a bunch of BS, so what makes being a Mormon any worse than being a Catholic, Baptist, or Methodist?
The only thing that concerns me when it comes to a candidate is what they will stand for in office and what they will do to promote positive change in this country. Their religious views are not important.
It matters because the Mormon religion is a nut job cult.
ALL organized religion is a bunch of cultist nut jobs
@Ryan – True but Mormons more so than most others.
Ah yes Luis because Mormons are beheading those who don't believe and are stoning women to death for driving...oh wait that is Obama's religion.
A Mormon in the White House? No way! Mormon's are racist and very cult-like. There is no way a Mormon President will be able to govern this country in a secular manner.
Mormons are not racist until you read the history books. You can also read american history and learn that so was the rest of the USA.
mormons are never to be trusted. they have one purpose: domination of the rest of us.
So he doesn't drink and he doesn't F women (other women) and no one woman he has ever been with has had an abortion? LOL what a joke. This is truly what he wants me to believe. I am sorry aren't we talking about a man?
Millions of us (males) are able to control ourselves. That's like saying every woman is a shopaholic.
But Erik – All women ARE shopaholocs!
It always amazes me when women generalize about all men just because they have made bad choices in men. I suppose you don't believe I was a virgin when I got married do you? When you stereotype an entire group like that, you show your own ignorance. If I stereotyped women like you stereotype men, I suppose I would say that all women are emotional freakshows that don't know how to drive.
Haven't we elected a number of morons as our president before? so what is the difference this time? lets elect the guy so he can make his parent proud lol
Mormon or not, America is not ready for another REPUBLICAN president. The last one nearly ruined us...
Mormon or not, America is not ready for another NEOCON president. The last one nearly ruined us...
I suppose the insane government deficit that a democrat president more than quadrupled is perfectly all right? In my opinion, Romney has the experience necessary to turn this country around financially. His religion shouldn't come into play, just like President Obama's shouldn't come into play.
i dont trust the mormons. they are kind of cultish
So is every other religion.
Less so than Catholics who believe that if you're not catholic you're going to hell.
Cultish, really? How? Because they have large families that are well taken care of? Live in the rocky mountains states? Are good citizens and patriots? Please enlighten us as to how you have formed your opinion.
they are christians...never met one i like...i've knowen a few
I like this statement–published in Forbes magazine–from a Mormon who is also a well-regarded professor at Harvard Business School:
"I believe that God is our father. He created us. He is powerful because he knows everything. Therefore everything I learn that is true makes me more like my father in heaven. When science seems to contradict religion, then one, the other, or both are wrong, or incomplete. Truth is not incompatible with itself. When I benefit from science it's actually not correct for me to say it resulted from science and not from God. They work in concert."
For more, see: http://www.forbes.com/forbes/2011/0314/features-clayton-christensen-health-care-cancer-survivor_11.html
for sale or rent
Someones religious beliefs shouldn't have anything to do with being president. If a mormon is qualified and shares some of the political beliefs I have I'll vote for them. Asking if America is ready for a president based on their religion is the same as asking if we were ready for a black president or if we are ready for a woman president.
We already have a stealth Muslim president. At least the Mormons have the same Christian beliefs on which our nation was founded. For the uninformed, observe Obama's actions don't listen to his words to derive his religion.
I'd be willing to bet you still believe he was born in the US too...
I'd be willing to bet you still believe he wasn't born in the US too...
And Bush the Christian was a coke-head, an alcholic, a failure at business, a failure as a governor and a failure as a president. I'll take this Muslim anytime!
All Christians are idiots, Mormons are total nut job idiots.
And here I was thinking that we didn't discriminate based on religion here in the U.S . Maybe this is why we are ranked the 8th freest country in the world, behind the people we won our independence from and a former soviet union country.
@Bart Ohama: Actually our nation was founded on Deist principles. Many of the founding fathers were Deists and wanted a nation where your religion didn't matter. Obviously they failed.
@Luis Wu: By calling all Christians idiots, you are no better than them saying all nonbelievers are going to hell. Learn to respect other peoples beliefs even if you don't understand them.
I'd never vote for a racist cult attendee. Mormons are demons purposing to deceive 'real' Christians. If you vote for a mormon, you are supporting the eventual hell destination for humans. Never vote for this mormon.
Obviously you've never actually taken the time to LEARn what the LDS church actually says and does. Like haveing the largest relief group in the world that provides blankets, baby supplies, bath supplies and other items of necessity for poeple in times of disaster. Or that unlike most other christian religions, don't believe that if you aren't LDS you're going to hell.
There were interviews done after the death of Mother Teresa with several church leaders. Most were hesitant to say that she would go to heaven because she wasn't of their faith, but the LDS church president came out and said that because she had lived a life of giving and caring that she would welcomed into heaven with open arms and that more of us should be like her.
Yes that all sounds very 'cultish', supporting people no matter what they believed as long and they try their best to be a good person. Maybe you should educate yourself before spouting off and not just take what other people say as the truth.
if he's Mormon, Jewish, Muslim or whatever religion they wish to be is not what matters. didn't we pass that backward thinking by now? what we always need in this country is good people to run it, manage it or lead it the best way possible.
we should always ask if they can lead the country with some good common sense and to the best they can, not what religion, color or gender they are. please use your head when you think.
Being a morman is backwards in fact practicing any religions is backward
@skarrlette: And where is your proof that there is no God? You saying religion is false is no different than them saying atheism is false.
"Supreme Fat Tony Scalia and his minions, Scalia and Thomas"
should have read
"Supreme Fat Tony Scalia and his minions, Alito and Thomas"
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