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. KJames2

    Mary, you are so far beyond lost!! Obama had no choice but to get Osama when presented the opportunity by our MILITARY by the way! It was nothing more than him giving the OK. Republicans have ALWAYS been the ones to make the hard decisions when it comes to war and military operations and do so knowing there may be a political cost. What did Clinton do after it was discovered Osama was behind the U.S. Embassy bombings in North Africa? Lobbed some cruise missles into deserted terrorist training camps AFTER TELLING THE AFGHAN "GOVERNMENT" WE WERE GOING TO DO SO!! Get your FACTS straight!!!! People that think like you are so LOST!!!

    June 3, 2011 at 9:29 am |
  2. The Dude

    Mormonism is a racist religion. Period.

    June 3, 2011 at 9:15 am |
  3. DoctorV

    I am a Mormon and a normal everyday American – and I can't stand Romney. I voted for Obama last time but I would vote for Huntsman in a second. Seriously, the only chance the GOPers have at beating Obama is to cough up someone a lot more moderate than most of the frontrunners on the scene now – and Huntsman could be that moderate.

    June 3, 2011 at 9:04 am |
  4. Truth

    Apparently the author of this article and all of you forgot that Senate Majority Leader and prominent Democrat Harry Reid is Mormon. This shows you that the LDS Church does not dictate what political party their members choose. This article also fails to point out all of the other prominent Mormons that all of you support in sports (Bryce Harper) and everyday life (Marriott, JetBlue, etc.) without thinking twice. I don't care who you vote for, and I don't think it should be based on a candidate's religious affiliation, but be sure to do your research on key issues before you vote.

    June 3, 2011 at 9:00 am |
  5. DougM

    Posting comments is almost as much of a waste of time as reading them.

    June 3, 2011 at 9:00 am |
    • Darryl Gates

      Needs a LIKE button

      June 5, 2011 at 11:16 pm |
  6. mormon poligamy

    Read "Under the Banner of Heaven" by Jon Krakauer. The US will NEVER be ready for a Mormon president....Though I know Mormons, who are good people. Besides, some of the things this candidate has said, has already struck me as lies.

    June 3, 2011 at 9:00 am |
    • Erik

      Under the Banner of Heaven is full of lies and half truths. I know the historyand what he wrote was a gross distortion.

      June 3, 2011 at 12:37 pm |
  7. kelly

    HWy should it matter what his religion is anymore than his race? morman are good people who carry family values. marriage BEFORE children probaly isnt the worst thing ever!

    June 3, 2011 at 8:59 am |
    • mormon poligamy

      Marriage to multiple wives and believe in gold tablets found by a prophent who changes the "messages from God" to suit his own interests?

      June 3, 2011 at 9:01 am |
    • Tonia

      REAL mormans dont have multiple wives anymore. they only did way back when bc women wernt allowed to have jobs but they still needed food and stuff. you watch to much HBO

      June 3, 2011 at 9:12 am |
  8. Joe Mahma


    This happens every election – the field is made up of å-holes and we get to pick one.


    June 3, 2011 at 8:58 am |
  9. Ragweed

    What we need is a real conservative in the White House. Romney certainly doesn't fit that bill. Other than that, I believe him to be honest in his beliefs, and feel that he would govern accordingly. A good honest person who lives his religion, other than an extremeist Muslim, is bound to be a better president than someone who seems to have no honest religious convictions. This country needs a good moral, conservative president who will do what he believes to be best for the country and not the best for his political career. C'mon Huck!

    June 3, 2011 at 8:57 am |
    • palintwit

      Mike Huckabee ??? Shezzaaam Aunt Bea !!

      June 3, 2011 at 9:00 am |
    • Lou in ME

      You don't need religion to have morals! Religion should not be a factor when voting for a candidate, freedom of or from religion and I choose the latter. No theocracies allowed!

      June 3, 2011 at 9:16 am |
  10. bush limbush

    Ok, given that all religions are silly, I still don't think it is realistic to think that a mormon could be elected president due to the fact that his religion is one of the silliest.

    June 3, 2011 at 8:55 am |
    • mike from iowa

      How about a candidate from the looney party? Or maybe one from "Crackpot Religions" ?

      This is an example of the sort of abuse we get all the time from ignorant people. I inherited this religion from my father, an ex-used-car salesman and part-time window-box, and I am very proud to be in charge of the first religion with free gifts. You get this luxury tea-trolley with every new enrollment. (pictures of this and the subsequent gifts) In addition to this you can win a three-piece lounge suite, this luxury caravan, a weekend for two with Peter Bonetti and tonights star prize, the entire Norwich City Council.

      Curtains go up to reveal the council. Terrific 'ooh' from an audience. Bad organ chords played by a nude man.
      Crackpot And remember with only eight scoring draws you can win a bishopric in a see of your own choice. You see we have a much more modern approach to religion.

      Cut to a person in church. They are walking past a pillar. They take out some money and put it in a collecting box. A sign on the box says 'For the rich'. We hear the money going in, then it moves off, along pipes, falling down; eventually it comes down a small pipe and lands with a tinkle in Crackpot's ashtray. He tries the money with his teeth, pops it into his pocket, and finishes reading...

      Crackpot Blessed is Arthur Crackpot and all his subsidiaries Ltd. You see, in our Church we have a lot more fun.
      Priest (we see he has a pepperpot with him) Oh, Mrs Collins, you did say you were nervous, didn't you? You have eyes on the coffee machine?

      Mrs Collins I don't mind, I don't mind – it's just nice to be here, Reverend.

      Priest (slaps her) Archdeacon! You asked for the coffee machine ... so lets see what you've won. You chose Hymn no. 437. (goes to hymn board, removes one of the numbers, and reads what's on the back) Oh, Mrs Collins, you had eyes on the coffee machine. Well you have won tonight's star prize: the entire Norwich City Council.

      Organ music, oohs and applause from audience.

      Mrs Collins I've got one already. (the priest starts to throttle her)

      June 3, 2011 at 9:50 am |
  11. Joe from CT, not Lieberman

    America was ready for a Mormon President back in 64 and 68 when Romney's father was a contender. But that was before the Religious Right took over the Republican Party.

    June 3, 2011 at 8:55 am |
  12. Overtaxed

    Why not a Mormon president, CNN? We certainly got ourselves a Muslim president at the moment.

    June 3, 2011 at 8:52 am |
    • Gracko


      June 3, 2011 at 8:55 am |
    • DougM

      Why on earth do you say he's a muslim?

      June 3, 2011 at 8:56 am |
    • bush limbush

      Well that's not true.

      June 3, 2011 at 8:56 am |
    • Joe Mahma

      Yuk, yuk, yuk (idiot).

      June 3, 2011 at 8:56 am |
    • Lou in ME


      June 3, 2011 at 9:17 am |
  13. palintwit

    Better a Mormon than the Shrilla from Wasilla.

    June 3, 2011 at 8:51 am |
    • trigtwit...America's favorite tard baby


      June 3, 2011 at 8:53 am |
  14. Boscobear

    He looks good on the outside but his integrity is like a flag blowing in the wind-one day it points one way, the next day it points another way.

    June 3, 2011 at 8:49 am |
  15. mike from iowa

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

    June 3, 2011 at 8:49 am |
    • MQ

      Wow, you do sounds intellidgent Mike.

      June 3, 2011 at 8:56 am |
  16. Reality

    Once again, all the conservative votes in the country "ain't" going to help a "pro-life" presidential candidate, i.e Romney, in 2012 as the "Immoral Majority" rules the country and will be doing so for awhile. The "Immoral Majority" you ask?

    The fastest growing USA voting bloc: In 2008, the 70+ million "Roe vs. Wade mothers and fathers" of aborted womb-babies" whose ranks grow by two million per year i.e. 78+ million "IM" voters in 2012.

    2008 Presidential popular vote results:

    69,456,897 for pro-abortion BO, 59,934,814 for "pro-life" JM.

    And all because many women fail to take the Pill once a day or men fail to use a condom even though in most cases these men have them in their pockets.

    (The failures of the widely used birth "control" methods i.e. the Pill and male condom have led to the large rate of abortions ( one million/yr) and S-TDs (19 million/yr) in the USA. Men and women must either recognize their responsibilities by using the Pill or condoms properly and/or use other safer birth control methods in order to reduce the epidemics of abortion and S-TDs.)

    (Currently, a perfect birth control barrier system does not exist. Time to develop one! In the meantime, mono-ma-sturbation or mutual ma-sturbation are highly recommended for hete-rose-xuals who need a contraceptive. Abstinence is another best-solution but obviously the se-x drive typically vitiates this option although being biological would it not be able to develop a drug to temporarily eliminate said drive?)

    June 3, 2011 at 8:44 am |
  17. Simeon

    If it were a Democat running it wouldn't be a problem. Republican? Big problem!

    June 3, 2011 at 8:44 am |
  18. Joyce

    Any man who shies away from his earlier work cannot be trusted. I would never vote for Romney as he has failed the honesty test re his Romneycare. One just has to look at approach,,,, going to repeal Obamacare when he is in the same boat. People open your eyes, deceit is his name

    June 3, 2011 at 8:43 am |
  19. David M

    I'm not overly concerned about his religious preference. We need a president who knows how to lead, not follow party dogma.

    June 3, 2011 at 8:42 am |
    • Joseph Keluel

      Is America ready for a Mormon president? May be I think so, but reality is not because Mormon need to change the way the behave I live here in Salt lake City, Utah 10 years Mormon State.
      _ You need to be a Mormon to get a good job in Utah.
      _ You need to be a Mormon to get a good School
      _You need to be a Mormon to find a good house you live and so on

      June 6, 2011 at 3:08 am |
  20. mary

    Okay, for those of you who need it....I will....speak...V..e...r...y s.l..low...ly......President....Obama.....is...NOT...Muslim.....he...is ...a ...Christian. There. Did we understand that now? And so what if he is Muslim anyway? Does that automatically mean he can't be a good president? Can anyone seriously see Palin or Romney handling the Bin Laden thing with that kind of finesse and skill? No, of course not. Palin would have botched it up one side and down the other and Romney wouldn't have even tried. We have the president we need. Enough said.

    June 3, 2011 at 8:41 am |
    • Simeon

      Thanks Mary. However, most Teabaggers can't read that many words at one time without their head exploding.

      June 3, 2011 at 8:46 am |
    • Insecure in Bel-Air

      Thank you Mary. But it's hopeless. If they have their fingers in their ears and they are going "lalalalalalalalala" they aren't gonna hear much.

      June 3, 2011 at 8:47 am |
    • Sherri

      Thank You!

      June 3, 2011 at 8:53 am |
    • MarineDad


      Most Conservatives actually know President Obama is a Christian. But in order to drive a wedge or to attract bigots to their side, conservative leaders and talk show hosts flit between labeling the president as a Rev. Wright type of Christian (read Black), or as a Muslim – purely depending on their convenience and expediency.

      When these labels get old, they hop on to useless 'made-up' issues like birthers, or that he is a socialist, or a communist, and so on. This method is the ONLY way (these days) the GOP ever wins elections. Other issues like family values (huh) or 'patriotism' or some such issue is also used when they think it may work.

      The reason that the GOP will lose is 2012 is because in general the party has too many visible hypocrites, and ordinary people can see through this charade.

      June 3, 2011 at 9:00 am |
    • hansbronson

      So Mary, in YOUR view, what is a Christian.

      June 3, 2011 at 9:02 am |
    • Michelle

      Great Mary. I think that issue has been put to bed...but just so you know, some random person named "mary" spelling something out on the web does not count as an irrefutable fact.

      Also, I never understood the hate of the Tea party (by the way I'm referring to the political grass roots movement focusing on fiscal conservatism (I'm mixed btw) – YOU GUYS are the ones that seem to be obsessed with boys putting their "tea bags" on other peoples foreheads....seems like a bit of deflection to me).

      I wouldn't vote for Romney. I consider myself fiscally conservative (much more liberal on person freedoms such as the right to keep something in my body or NOT) and his nationalized health care plan executed on a state level in Mass is just scary. Wasn't it in debt already at the end of year one??

      I did not vote for Obama and would probably vote Paul Ryan before the big O or Romney. I am not a member of the Tea Party, but I fully believe that they are correct when it comes to the economy in this country.

      Hmmmmm..... I'd like a Ryan / Rubio ticket before a Big O or Romney ballot any day!

      June 3, 2011 at 9:04 am |
    • Susaninsilk

      The president handled the Bin Laden thing? Look, I have nothing against the president but it just pushes my button when people give the president the credit for killing Bin Laden. A soldier, ones that risk their life every single minute of the day, is the one to fire that bullet. I believe the president was like 6 to 7 thousand miles away when that took place. Give credit where credit is due.

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

      Thanks Mary. Obama may not be a Muslim, but he has gone out of his way to accommodate them and rationalize the relligion. And in spite of the fact that President Obama has attended radical Jeremiah Wright's "GD church" over the years, I don't believe he has much religion or belief in God in him. He can hardly bring himself to say "God" when he recites the pledge of allegience.

      Oh, and by the way, If you believe we have the president we need you really are delusional. If we need record debt, broken promises, increasing unemployment, increasing intrusion by the government into our lives, and an economy that is in the tank,....... well, we don't have the president we need. Nor do we need Romney.

      June 3, 2011 at 9:13 am |
    • Lou in ME

      Obama 2012!!!

      June 3, 2011 at 9:21 am |
    • KJames2

      Mary, Republicans have ALWAYS been the ones to make the hard decisions when it comes to war and military operations and do so knowing there may be a political cost. Obama had no choice but to get Osama when presented the opportunity by our MILITARY by the way! It was nothing more than him giving the OK. What did Clinton do after it was discovered Osama was behind the U.S. Embassy bombings in North Africa? Lobbed some cruise missles into deserted terrorist training camps AFTER TELLING THE AFGHAN "GOVERNMENT" WE WERE GOING TO DO SO!! Get your FACTS straight!!!! People that think like you are so LOST!!!

      June 3, 2011 at 9:35 am |
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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.