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.
Romney is good but I like Ron Paul!
Did anyone see the funny story about his new stance on gold???
It never fails... Post an article dealing with some aspect of religion and every friggin' nut-case comes out from under their rock and tries to make the Stupid Meter go tilt! Wow!
(like button clicked!)
Only 1 religious group attacked the world trade center(USA) on 9/11
Only 1 religious group bombed the Oklahoma City Federal Building. What's your point?
What does his religion have to do with anything?. I won't vote for him because he is a Republican.
Best comment ever...A+++++++
Religion should not matter. The republican's just want to lynch the rest of the country with their bible belt so they NEED a religious conservative sitting in the white house to sign their freedom killing bills into law since they don't care about non-believers rights, like the right to marry who you want to, a womans right over her body, the right to worship however you choose even if it means building a mosque. But the fact is, most religious republicans would put every g ay, liberal, muslim, atheist, hippie, pot smoker on a boat and ship us to China because they don't consider us Americans. Problem is, this country was designed, built, and prospered on the backs of those same people you so desparately want to hide and push back into the closet. We are real Americans, and someday in the not so distant future, we will have an election where religion won't matter.
I couldn't care less about his inane religious beliefs. And how is this relevant to anything. I'm not voting for the guy because he's a party tool that won't even defend his own health care policy. Which, by the way is working.
No. Next question?
After Campaigner and Chief Obama America is ready for any kind of President.
"Campaigner and Chief" You don't actually know what that means, do you?
You do realize that we have had 7 consecutive quarters of growth coming out of one of the deepest financial holes ever dug by his predecessor right? You dumb a s s es just amaze me sometimes.
are Americans ready for (or aware of) the White Horse Prophecy?
Yeah, God's gonna make him president. Or else God's gonna lose the election. Let's just see.
Gay marriage will still be illegal but polygamy will be totally ok!
you make an awesome point....funny how Mormons are bad because they practiced unorthodox marriage over a hundred years ago, and now they are bad because they defend traditional marriage. Its like..."society...please decide why you hate us...flip-floppers!"
A lot more ready for a honorable Mormon then a toxic, narcissistic, racist, pathological liar, Muslim sympathizer that has drove our nation into bankruptcy. Isn't it funny how CNN refers to him as a Mormon but never refers to Obama as a pure muslim sympathizer, claiming to be a Christian. Obama is a totally EVIL man...
You would make a great SNL skit, as a rabid right winger foaming at the mouth while shouting that stuff. It would be a very funny parody of the extreme right wing mindset.
You folks keep conveniently forgetting that most of that debt was run up by your neighbor, Dubya, to pay for his military adventures. Funny how selective some people's memories are.
"Isn't it funny how CNN refers to him as a Mormon but never refers to Obama as a pure muslim " Well, the reason is that he's not a "pure muslim," whatever religion THAT is. He's a Christian fundamentalist; if you think that's evil I won't disagree. Hey, are you addicted to Vicodin or something? You sound crazy.
My wife just left on a trip to Arizona today, I might have to call her and tell her not to drink any of the water, apparently it makes you bat shlt crazy.
Wow. Such wonderful replies. Especially Bible. And I love the State of Arizona...too bad you had to use your lovely state's name in your tag. I am not a Liberal (except in the Classical sense) and I see the fallacy in your statements. Even my Republican friends would find those statements an affront to their cause. Heck, they wouldn't even have wasted their time responding, as I unfortunately have. Time would have been better spent calling my Congressman to complain about the ill-educated folk our schools are apparently propagating! Evaluation: poorly thought through prose...lacking factual legitimacy...sounds like the ramblings of a religious (especially Christian) fundamentalist. 'nough said.
What's wrong with you?
I don't care if a public official subscribes to a particular religion....just keep it out of government !!! We don't, and shouldn't, live in a theocracy.
to see what we believe try mormon.org
We need an atheist leader with a vision of advancing society. Ha I'll keep wishing!
We know; Joe Smith found some tablets and made up a story, then the Angel Moran came and took them away. Next there was magic underwear and they moved out west and kidnapped people from wagon trains to be their slaves. Sounds great! Just what we need as a president.
No, and I'll tell you why. Several years ago, I had next-door neighbors who were Mormon. Lovely people, law-abiding, etc., etc., etc. Here's the catch: When the head of the Mormon Church/LDS told all its members to boycott Disney and all its products, etc. (because Disney offered benefits to employees with partners, i.e., committed unmarried and/or gay folks), my neighbors promptly did so. A couple years later when the head of the Mormon Church said it was OK to now buy Disney products, etc., my neighbors took a vacation at Disneyland, without blinking an eye. That kind of thoughtless, blind allegiance frankly scares me – way too fascist for my tastes. Romney is a devote Mormon – and I would trust him as far as I could throw him to put our country and its well-being ahead of any of his religious doctrine.
wait, so we aren't ready for a Mormon president because your neighbors didn't buy disney stuff for a couple of years and later went to a disney park? In all my years as a Mormon I've never heard such a thing.
The LDS church never called for a Disney boycott. Not sure what your neighbors were thinking.
I've never heard of a Mormon boycott of Disney. Perhaps you are thinking of the Southern Baptist boycott of Disney? Google it. Your neighbors may have boycotted Disney, but the church certainly didn't tell them to.
I have been an active Mormon my whole life and never heard of such a thing. Get your facts straight my friend
Shame on you for judging a whole religion on one family! Mormons are christians and just like any other christian religion, has members spanning many different backgrounds, cultures and ways of thinking. Do all Catholics obey every word that comes out of the pope's mouth blindly? Be careful with your biased judgements.
His election would save millions in the cost of the Secret Service, which would no longer be necessary thanks to the President's Magic Underwear.
I'm mormon, and I actually love this. Way funny!
sadly, it's is the idiotic statements like the one you just made that propagate intolerance and bigotry.. "thanks" for continuing the traditions of narrow-mindedness and prejudice..
It should not make one bit of difference if a person is a Mormon, Muslim, Baptist, Jew, or atheist in terms of their qualifications for office. I won't vote for Mitt Romney because he is insincere and untrustworthy, and a Republican -not because he is a Mormon.
BCharles is an example of a true American who fully understands the principles this country is founded upon. As a Mormon, I wouldn't vote for Romney just because he is a Mormon...its his politics and policies I'm interested in and I'm not sure yet that I will vote for him due to Romney-care. I wish more people thought like BCharles.
Give me a break, what you mean it doesn't make a difference? With the exception of Kennedy, U.S. has been ruled by Protestant and will be, a Mormon or Muslims or Jews are minorities and we never know what will be the outcome!!
What religion someone practices – if they truly practice – can tell you a great deal about how they might decide certain policies or react to certain situations. Religion is NOT like race. It is a lifestyle that one chooses, and I believe that choice can be a legitimate factor in choosing who to vote for.
BOTTOM LINE: No. Mormonism was (and I believe still is from my personal interactions with them) a fundamentally racists belief system and I do not want someone who believes that minorities are inherently inforerior (whether they are a Mormon or not) as the Leader of this country and of the free world. No thank you Mitt.
This is a very hypocritical statement – you are stereotyping an entire group of people based on religion. That is called bigotry and is no better than being racist.
Yeah...go to all the African congregations and try this argument. Did you know that there are more Mormons in Latin America than in the entire U.S.? Spanish is the most spoken language among all Mormons.
You're kidding right? There is a plethora of information, quotes and writings from even the "founder" Joseph Smith himself about the nature of blacks as an inferior race and cursed. Look it up for yourself. This belief has been passed down from the Smith himself and espoused by high-profile Mormons like Brigham Young. Only relatively recently has there been an effort to deny that it is racist.....but in addition to that, I had a friend who was a Mormon, who I believe was not a racist in his heart, but he flat out told me that if I attended the "blessing" or "presenting" of his children to the church that I would not be made welcome and that it would likely be very uncomfortable because I was a minority. I understand that that was only his congregation, but if a Mormom himself tells you that they can be pretty racist, then I will take it right from the horse's mouth.
Yeah...go to all the African congregations and try this argument. Did you know that there are more Mormons in Latin America than in the entire U.S.? Spanish is the most spoken language among all Mormons.
I do find it interesting how the mormon church preys on ignorant 3rd world countries. Catholics are no different of course.
The only people who would care about his religion are those that are opposed to him and will use it to lambast him.
I don't care what religion a president is, but I have to agree with Cathy. Like most religions, women are suppressed.
That's easy for an outside observer to say...try asking Mormon women how they feel...you might be surprised!
Yah, Jon, we'd love to hear your battered-wife syndrome do it's thing. Really convincing. Yah.