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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. KJ

    Anyone who believes the LDS church to be a group of people with bad intentions or satanic beliefs is quite obviously completely uninformed, or blatantly ignorant. Before running your mouths about something you know nothing about, how about you visit one of these two TRUSTED sites to receive some accurate information: http://www.mormon.org; http://www.lds.org.

    June 4, 2011 at 11:37 am |
  2. Chad

    Truth be told it makes no difference who we elect as president. The real power behind the throne is the Wall Street Banks! The president merely a puppet of the banks. That is the case for Obama, and it will be true for whoever our next president turns out to be. Both candidates will be hand picked for us by the Wall Street Banks!

    June 4, 2011 at 10:18 am |
  3. J

    I am a Mormon and continue to scratch my head as to why Mormonism is an issue. Come to one of our meetings and you will see we are a Christian faith. Heads out of the sand please!!!!

    June 4, 2011 at 9:16 am |
  4. Kim

    I am confused as to why it would be such a big deal to have a "Mormon" as president. What would happen? I think he would serve like any other president and he would still have the senate and house of reps to check and balance him. Why don't we look more on the character of a person and their record than their religious beliefs?

    June 4, 2011 at 9:00 am |
    • Richard

      Beautifully put Kim!

      June 6, 2011 at 3:16 am |
  5. successgal07

    What would you think if Mitt Romney said he was a Muslim now and now a Mormon anymore? Would you vote for him?
    Go online and check what the Mormon church has done for the world , not only for the church members(Humanitarian services). There is a calamity and the church is there even before Red Cross in some cases. In Texas, that was an article that mentioned that the only churches that were there to help were the Mormons and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (which they are one and the same). Look at the Mormons that DO live their religion and you will see that much good is being done in the world.

    June 4, 2011 at 8:55 am |
  6. hopeful

    People need to educate themselves. I'm more scared of an evangelical who thinks they can judge good mormon people and say they're not christian and try to brand them with the cult word. What an unchristlike behavior. I've lived all over the US and have met a lot of mormons. They have been educated, kind, and good neighbors....
    If we aren't careful we'll deter any qualified good person from wanting to serve our county. If someone as smart, successful, and talented as Romney wants to help turn this mess around....we'd be lucky to get him.

    Or else we can settle for a career politian who couldn't pass econ 101....

    June 4, 2011 at 6:10 am |
  7. Trololol

    He could be a fully capable candidate, yet people refuse to look past his religion. Is this not a form of descrimination?

    June 4, 2011 at 5:46 am |
  8. uaintdown

    I'm voting for Mitt Romney as President, not as Pope or Pastor.

    June 4, 2011 at 3:33 am |
  9. Spidey-Man

    I'm ready for an Atheist President. What the hell is up with all this crap about having to believe in a god that doesn't exist that makes you the best person to run for president?!! Religion is what is really screwing up the world and peoples lives. Just ask those losers that gave up all their worldly possessions because some nutjob said the world was gonna end on may 21st...As well as my Grandpa kept sending his money to oral roberts because he thought roberts had a place for him to live. And forget about asking them to stop because he's old and doesn't understand... They just laid it on harder to get his money before he died and left it to Mom and her sibs. Don't get me started...! I'm a much better person without that crap than any religious person out there. And proud of it.

    June 3, 2011 at 11:09 pm |
    • Wendilynn

      don't hold religion responsible for what greedy and selfish and power hungry people do. if you took away religion, these same people would find something else to use.

      June 4, 2011 at 4:04 am |
  10. 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 11:06 pm |
  11. Nathan

    Yeah, I don't think Huntsman is more distant from his "Mormon" faith than Romney, he just doesn't make as much of public issue out of it, as was suggested. Plus I saw him in the Salt Lake temple recently. 🙂 For Mormons, going into one of their temples implies that one is in basic "good standing" in the Church. Usually people who aren't serious about the religion don't make the effort to qualify themselves for the privilege of temple worship.

    June 3, 2011 at 10:44 pm |
  12. popeye1128

    For many in this country religious affiliation is even a bigger issue than race. Just a fact whether one wants to accept it or not. This country seems to be stuck in the 17th or 18th century in regards to religious tolerance.

    June 3, 2011 at 10:08 pm |
  13. Roy bell

    Thanks to Jeremiah Wright and BO, religion will cease to be a major issue come election time...unless you're Muslim !

    June 3, 2011 at 9:26 pm |
  14. david

    The people elected a black man for the Presidency. What's wrong with a Morman? Doesn't the law say you cannot be discriminated against for race, or religion? I am a Christian, but he has my vote if he can use his business success proven talents to get the USA moving again unlike the current administration has failed to do.

    June 3, 2011 at 9:02 pm |
  15. Pompous

    Just look at his face. This YUPPIE biitch has NOTHING good to offer this country.

    I could care less if he has 6 wives and worships Joe Smith.

    June 3, 2011 at 8:34 pm |
    • Say What?

      Ain't that the truth

      June 3, 2011 at 8:41 pm |
    • truthteller

      Hmmm, until I read the second line I thought your comments were meant for our current President.

      June 5, 2011 at 1:33 am |
  16. Mark from Middle River

    You know, the SNL thing.... someone else mentioned that in another blog and said that the republican field coming out now are running interferance for a true canadate that is waiting.

    SNL is going to pounce on whoever looks to be the Republican front runner so I think that the plan is to have SNL just satuate their programing so by the time we get closer to the Convention their jokes and insults will pack less of an impact.

    June 3, 2011 at 8:05 pm |
  17. James Black

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aGSvqMBj-ig&w=640&h=360]

    June 3, 2011 at 8:01 pm |
    • Artist

      spam

      June 3, 2011 at 8:01 pm |
    • Fartist

      SPERM

      June 3, 2011 at 8:37 pm |
  18. Artist

    Mark from Middle River

    I gotta agree... "burned at the stake" .... that was your "jumping the shark" moment.
    ---------
    Is sarcasm dead in here????????

    June 3, 2011 at 7:46 pm |
    • Mark from Middle River

      I think the 50 or so .."...well we elected a Muslim president" or the 20 or so "magic underware" just to get folks angry troll post sorta has sarcasm on life support. 🙂

      June 3, 2011 at 7:56 pm |
    • Artist

      Mark from Middle River

      I think the 50 or so .."...well we elected a Muslim president" or the 20 or so "magic underware" just to get folks angry troll post sorta has sarcasm on life support.
      -----
      I say we change it to Mormon Underoos

      June 3, 2011 at 7:57 pm |
  19. Artist

    If he wins SNL will have so much fun with his mormon background. I can just see the skit him running around in his magic underwear LOL.

    June 3, 2011 at 7:33 pm |
    • cosmos

      enough with the "magic underwear comments." it just makes you seem juvenile.

      June 3, 2011 at 7:39 pm |
    • Artist

      cosmos

      enough with the "magic underwear comments." it just makes you seem juvenile.
      ------
      The nature of the protection believed to be afforded by temple garments is ambiguous and varies between adherents. Researchers who interviewed a sample of Latter-day Saints who wear the temple garment reported that virtually all wearers expressed a belief that wearing the garment provided "spiritual protection" and encouraged them to keep their covenants.Some of those interviewed "asserted that the garment also provided physical protection, while others seemed less certain of any physical aspect to protection."In Mormon folklore, tales are told of Latter-day Saints who credit their temple garments with helping them survive car wrecks, fires, and natural disasters.
      .
      hmmmmm what can we call them? How about Mormon Underoos?

      June 3, 2011 at 7:42 pm |
  20. cosmos

    Even though America is founded on freedom of religion, or *no religion,* an atheist or an agnostic has almost no chance of being elected for president. Atheists and agnostics face the most discrimination out of anyone in the faith-aspect of life. They have to lie in order to get anywhere.
    I want an atheist as president!

    June 3, 2011 at 7:32 pm |
    • Artist

      cosmos

      Even though America is founded on freedom of religion, or *no religion,* an atheist or an agnostic has almost no chance of being elected for president. Atheists and agnostics face the most discrimination out of anyone in the faith-aspect of life. They have to lie in order to get anywhere.
      I want an atheist as president!
      -----------

      As an artist, our first instinct is to be spiritual etc. While the arts community tends to not be christians persey, they have other beliefs. I do find the arts community odd lol. I dare not say that I question it "all". For the longest time my wife was the only one who knew.

      June 3, 2011 at 7:37 pm |
    • Artist

      Cosmo,
      We live in fear and this is our only means by which we dare express ourselves. In the real world, yu never know if a christian is near and can over hear you. Who wants to be burned at the stake?

      June 3, 2011 at 7:39 pm |
    • cosmos

      @ artist – your comment seems kind of weird and tangential, lol. plus, do you really dislike christians that much? I don't, I'm just genuinely confused by them, and feel like I can't share my real self because they'll just think I'm a sinner / am un-enlightened, and in need of help.

      June 3, 2011 at 7:41 pm |
    • Mark from Middle River

      I gotta agree... "burned at the stake" .... that was your "jumping the shark" moment.

      June 3, 2011 at 7:42 pm |
    • Artist

      Cosmos no I don't hate them lol. I used to be one. You have to be careful in the professional world when it comes to these things. You just never know when someone might have a "revelation from god" as to how to handle you, fire you, etc. Back when I used to work in an office I knew a guy that has 12....YES 12 crosses in his office for an example. He was Irish Catholic I think.

      June 3, 2011 at 7:45 pm |
    • Artist

      posted wrong spot before.
      .
      Artist

      Mark from Middle River

      I gotta agree... "burned at the stake" .... that was your "jumping the shark" moment.
      ---
      Is sarcasm dead in here????????

      June 3, 2011 at 7:47 pm |
    • Mark from Middle River

      Artist – I do believe that the guy who shot Congresswoman Gifford, a little eight year old girl, and a few others had no religious affiliations.

      Nuts and killers can come from pretty much anywhere.

      The guy with the Crosses might not have been religious at all..... it just might mean that one or more of your co-workers might have been vampires 😀

      June 3, 2011 at 7:51 pm |
    • Mark from Middle River

      Sorry Artist , ...been following this thread off and on for a few days ... its just aim and fire these days 🙂

      June 3, 2011 at 7:52 pm |
    • Artist

      Mark from Middle River

      The guy with the Crosses might not have been religious at all..... it just might mean that one or more of your co-workers might have been vampires
      .
      Thank for the laugh. I needed that. Have a good weekend.

      June 3, 2011 at 7:53 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.