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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. WWRRD

    The few Mormons I know are honest , very hard-working folks. They live simply, know how to save money, live within their means. These are values that America needs now more than ever. Romney and Huntsman so far seem to be the cream of the GOP crop. The evenagelicals and social conservatives that have a stranglehold on the primary process will most likely elect some buffoon fringe nut job like Palin, or Newt and that will be the Party's downfall.

    June 3, 2011 at 7:59 am |
  2. G

    I think it says a lot when the most cogent, rational opinions on here are coming from self-proclaimed atheists and agnostics.

    June 3, 2011 at 7:57 am |
    • Mel

      Agreed

      June 3, 2011 at 8:06 am |
  3. mikw from iowa

    It is far more important for politicians to be religious now, than it was in the times of our fore-fathers. The average intelligence of American citizen is lower now than at the time of the fore-fathers. This country is doomed, soon we will be just like the middle-east, with evangical christians in charge of everything. gog help us, lol.

    June 3, 2011 at 7:57 am |
  4. John

    Mormons are big into Las Vegas gambling, multiple marriages, fraud, and a bogus religion. No Mormons.

    June 3, 2011 at 7:56 am |
    • WWRRD

      You have no clue what you are writing.

      June 3, 2011 at 8:00 am |
    • Little

      Not true. So not true.

      June 3, 2011 at 8:05 am |
  5. Bob

    Of course, anything better than this situation. I just hope the one that wins can take on Obama in the General.

    June 3, 2011 at 7:55 am |
  6. really?

    check out this link...........these people are nuts http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7q6brMrFw0E

    June 3, 2011 at 7:54 am |
    • Khadijah

      Look at any religion you want to and you will find things in their past that are not good. Look at the Salt Lake Mormons today and you will see some people that are trying very hard. He needs to be evaluated based upon his performance, not his religion. I was in High School when Kennedy was elected and some people were hysterical about it, but we all survived.

      June 3, 2011 at 8:00 am |
  7. Dr Bill Toth

    I think Americans are ready for a president that will run our govt like a business – for profit – or at least break even vs running in the red. Live with Intention, DrBillToth.com/blog

    June 3, 2011 at 7:53 am |
    • Zedag

      If the government is like a business, how can they explain their mantra "We don't have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem"? What company could ever be successful by not taking in more money but merely spending less? From what I understand of Romney, his main business qualifications were as a corporate raider who reorganized companies and "turned them around" with massive layoffs. Jobs jobs jobs indeed.

      June 3, 2011 at 7:56 am |
  8. JOE

    THE QUESTION HERE IS NOT WHETHER WE'RE READY FOR A MORMON PRESIDENT BUT RATHER WHETHER WE'RE READY FOR A PRESIDENT WHO'S ALLOWED TO HAVE MORE WIVES THAN OSAMA BIN LADEN. AND DOES HE DO LIKE HIS REPUBLICAN BUDDY ARNOLD SHAWARTZENEGER AND IMPREGNATE TWO WOMEN IN THE SAME DAY? SPEAKING OF INTEGRITY AND FAMILY VALUES! AND BY THE WAY, WHAT ABOUT HIS BIRTH CERTIFICATE? IS MITT ROMNEY GOING TO SHOW HIS BIRTH CERTIFICATE BEFORE HE RUNS FOR OFFICE AND PROVE TO THE AMERICAN PEOPLE THAT HE IS INDEED A NATURAL BORN US CITIZEN WHO IS ELIGIBLE TO RUN FOR HIGHER OFFICE? YEA I KNOW, HE'S GOANNA SAY HE WAS BORN IN THE UNITED STATES. BUT WHO IS TO SAY THAT MR. ROMNEY WASN'T BORN IN ANOTHER COUNTRY AND MIGRATE TO THE US AT AN EARLY AGE LIKE THE HITLER YOUTH DONALD TRUMP WHO WAS ACTUALLY BORN IN GERMANY? THESE ARE JUST A FEW OF THE DAUNTING QUESTIONS THAT REMAIN TO BE ANSWERED REGARDING THESE RIGHTWING CONFEDERATE REDNECKS.

    June 3, 2011 at 7:45 am |
    • Matt

      Joe – you need to do some reading. That was an old old old way of life along ago. Grow up.

      June 3, 2011 at 7:51 am |
    • Matt

      Besides....If he can get me a joe, he can have all the tail he wants. I'll even send my wife to DC... 😉

      June 3, 2011 at 7:52 am |
    • Emigdio

      @JOE woah, calm yourself down before you have a heart attack. that was a the most idiotic comment i read all day.

      June 3, 2011 at 8:00 am |
    • Barbara

      Joe: Grow up and get educated. Mitt Romney does not have the option of having more than one wife. Go to Mormom.org to educate yourself before you make ignorant statements

      June 3, 2011 at 8:06 am |
  9. MassResident

    We may be ready for a Mormon president, but not for Romney. Romney says Obama failed America. Well, Mr Romney, you failed Massachusetts.

    June 3, 2011 at 7:44 am |
    • James

      He sure did fail us big time. He actually only worked for 2 years, got his Romneycare approved then out his large PR department to work spreading his name across the country for President. At the end he left a huge deficit hidden in crazy cuts which had to be restored immediately or the State would have ceased working.

      June 3, 2011 at 7:59 am |
  10. presidential debate

    ref: Mr. Obama, are blacks cursed by God?
    Obama: Absolutely not.
    ref: Mr Romney, are blacks cursed by God?
    Romney: uh... well.. first let me start off by saying I have black friends and that blacks can serve in positions of leadership in our temples. We love black people. I love black people. But...

    GAME OVER!

    June 3, 2011 at 7:44 am |
    • Mel

      Hilarious!

      June 3, 2011 at 8:04 am |
    • Possum

      Exactly. By time you weed out blacks, gays and everyone else in the bible (and other doctrines) God supposedly says he hates, all that is left is the Jewish People and a smattering of other desert tribes. White people hijacked Christianity from the Middle East anyway. There aren't really white people in the bible and then, seems like Mormons made up a new gospel to make it even whiter.

      June 3, 2011 at 8:36 am |
  11. Peter

    Who cares what religion a president is a member of? If he or she thinks they can do the job, elect them.

    June 3, 2011 at 7:41 am |
  12. Matt

    Why not! That would just about cover all religions. We will have had christans (in many flavors), Cathalic, Muslum, and now a Morman.

    June 3, 2011 at 7:39 am |
  13. No, Just No

    We cannot have a man who is gonna bring more religion into politics, it ruins the country when you mix the 2 together.

    June 3, 2011 at 7:37 am |
    • Matt

      Hey – surprise – It has been part of this countries polictics forever. Don't let the information age scare ya.

      June 3, 2011 at 7:41 am |
    • Jim

      Yeah, we can't have people bringing their religion into things - why look at how the Vatican ran the White House during the Kennedy years - not sure how Marilyn Monroe and the other bimbos fit into Catholicism, but one would assume that they must based on the idiotic arguments here.

      June 3, 2011 at 7:48 am |
  14. Robert

    Why not a mormon president? Anyone but the muslim president we have now!

    June 3, 2011 at 7:37 am |
    • No, Just No

      Well you're an idiot to think that he's muslim. Even though at least he is not mixing religion with politics, that's what ruins our country.

      June 3, 2011 at 7:38 am |
    • Matt

      He was indoc'ed as a muslum as a boy and lived it for years. And as far as fixing it with his politics. Why are we in Libya?? Why is he forceing NASA to REACH OUT to the muslim world???

      June 3, 2011 at 7:45 am |
    • Chris Synfield

      You're too stupid to be allowed to speak.

      June 3, 2011 at 7:48 am |
    • Possum

      Oh, good grief.At least he didn't wave a Jesus cross around and bash gays or stop in mid speech and bow to Mecca in order to get votes. Quite frankly, I don't care what his or any other politician's faith is so long as they harm no other in their pursuit. Too many politicians use religion as vote-getting. America is a country of many Faiths and no one is to be held above another.

      June 3, 2011 at 8:12 am |
  15. RCK in PA

    Given what we have now it would be several steps up.

    June 3, 2011 at 7:35 am |
    • Matt

      Second that...

      June 3, 2011 at 7:47 am |
  16. Randie

    No. Just not ready for THAT Mormon to be president...

    June 3, 2011 at 7:34 am |
  17. RadNick32

    Read the book "Under the Banner of Heaven" then make up your mind about the Morman religion.

    June 3, 2011 at 7:34 am |
    • Jim

      Little merit to that since it focuses on OTHER churches - the various fundamentalist Mormon offshoots. It's kind of like reading about snake handlers to understand Catholicism, or Judiasm.

      June 3, 2011 at 7:54 am |
    • Hamish

      I totally agree, Jon Krakauer's book "Under the Banner of Heaven" is a must read. I'd also recommend Richard Dawkin's "The God Delusion" and Carl Sagan's "The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark"

      June 3, 2011 at 7:55 am |
    • Little

      Not true. This book is mostly about fundamentalist LDS, not the main branch of the church. Don't believe everything you read, and don't judge people by their past. Mitt Romney deserves a chance, just like Obama did, and Bush did, and Kennedy, first Catholic president ever did.

      June 3, 2011 at 7:58 am |
    • John

      How about reading "The Book of Mormon – Another Testament of Jesus Christ" and then deciding? What a concept.

      June 3, 2011 at 7:59 am |
    • RadNick32

      For people who think tis book is only about fundamentalist, you ar not understanding the point of the book. The fundalmentalist are holding up the true intentions of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young...the more main stream Mormans like a Romney consider themselves reformed but many of them still sympathizes or have leanings toward the declorations of the founders of the Morman religion which is a relatively new religion. Morman's have been given credit for the good things they have done with their religion, but there is a side to the religion that may scare people. Right or wrong that's the way it is...

      June 3, 2011 at 9:12 am |
    • RobertW

      RadNick32, I'm a Mormon who has read "Under the Banner of Heaven." I respect Jon Krakauer and found the book to be a very interesting read. The problem is that because of what Krakauer chooses to emphasize (and although he's mostly accurate in the events he reports, he gets some important points wrong), people who are not really familiar with how LDS people think walk away thinking there is some uniquely violent tendency lurking under the surface of their LDS neighbors, which is simply not true, at least no more so than any other human being.

      Your comment above is a good example of this. Because some extremist whackos committed a heinous crime (they weren't even LDS at the time, having left the church to start their own extremist group), you assume that all LDS have similar tendencies, and therefore, the Mormon religion is a threat and any of its adherents are unfit to be president. Of course, you conveniently ignore all of the murder and mayhem caused by adherents of other Christian sects (see, for example, both the Protestant and Catholic inquisitions). Surely, if one is being objective and fair, you'd have to rule those violent Christians out as potential candidates. But hey, don't forget about Mao (10 million+ deaths?) and Stalin (20 million+ deaths), so athiests are obviously much too violent. We could do the same for any other religion as well. So who's left to lead the country?

      We have to stop judging the majority by the worst acts of the minority. Until we are able to do that, we need to be honest enough to admit that we are guilty of bigotry, and most of us are in one way or another.

      June 3, 2011 at 10:14 am |
  18. No, Just No

    The biggest problems in politics is when you mix religion with them. This will be the biggest downfall in our country if he gets voted in.

    June 3, 2011 at 7:32 am |
  19. LNA

    SCREW RELIGION! The day America (and hopefully the world) wake up and renounce these control systems, will be the day starts heading in the right direction...

    June 3, 2011 at 7:32 am |
    • Little

      America was built on religion, the whole world was. We can't let it go. It gives us, in part, our values.

      June 3, 2011 at 8:00 am |
  20. John

    Not again!!!! I have been to a Morman funeral and the first 30 minutes of the eulogy was a "sales pitch" on becoming morman. Gosh enough of them knock on our doors "selling the religion". Leave it out of everything people.

    June 3, 2011 at 7:30 am |
    • Jim

      So, John, you object to a friend who, in their moment of greatest grief, conveys the faith that gives them hope!?!?! Apparently you should tell your Mormon friends that your support doesn't extend that far - ditto for any Jews, Catholics, or others who might express such beliefs.

      June 3, 2011 at 7:50 am |
    • Little

      Just like any other funeral in any other religion. It's horrible that you weren't thinking about your friend, instead whining about listening.

      June 3, 2011 at 7:59 am |
    • Little

      And before I forget, its MORMON. OR CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST OF LATTER-DAY SAINTS. Never Moreman.

      June 3, 2011 at 8:08 am |
    • John

      I don't object to a friend being Mormon. I felt it was out of place to take more time "selling the religion" than respecting the death. They never mentioned the deceased in that half hour. To top it off they even stated literature is available to those interested.

      June 3, 2011 at 8:24 am |
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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.