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. Chozo

    It's kind of hard to take someone who calls their underwear the "Sacred Garments of the Priesthood" seriously. I will try to overlook it, but it sure sounds loony.

    June 6, 2011 at 12:39 am |
  2. Muneef

    ] O children of Adam, we have provided you with garments to cover your bodies, as well as for luxury. But the best garment is the garment of righteousness. These are some of GOD's signs, that they may take heed.

    [7:27] O children of Adam, do not let the devil dupe you as he did when he caused the eviction of your parents from Paradise, and the removal of their garments to expose their bodies. He and his tribe see you, while you do not see them. We appoint the devils as companions of those who do not believe.

    [7:28] They commit a gross sin, then say, "We found our parents doing this, and GOD has commanded us to do it." Say, "GOD never advocates sin. Are you saying about GOD what you do not know?"

    [7:29] Say, "My Lord advocates justice, and to stand devoted to Him alone at every place of worship. You shall devote your worship absolutely to Him alone. Just as He initiated you, you will ultimately go back to Him."

    [7:30] Some He guided, while others are committed to straying. They have taken the devils as their masters, instead of GOD, yet they believe that they are guided.

    [7:31] O children of Adam, you shall be clean and dress nicely when you go to the masjid. And eat and drink moderately; Surely, He does not love the gluttons.


    22:52. We did not send before you any messenger, nor a prophet, without having the devil interfere in his wishes. GOD then nullifies what the devil has done. GOD perfects His revelations. GOD is Omniscient, Most Wise.*

    22:53. He thus sets up the devil's scheme as a test for those who harbor doubts in their hearts, and those whose hearts are hardened. The wicked must remain with the opposition.

    22:54. Those who are blessed with knowl- edge will recognize the truth from your Lord, then believe in it, and their hearts will readily accept it. Most assuredly, GOD guides the believers in the right path.

    22:55. As for those who disbelieve, they will continue to harbor doubts until the Hour comes to them suddenly, or until the retribution of a terrible day comes to them.

    [5:90] O you who believe, intoxicants, and gambling, and the altars of idols, and the games of chance are abominations of the devil; you shall avoid them, that you may succeed.

    [5:91] The devil wants to provoke animosity and hatred among you through intoxicants and gambling, and to distract you from remembering GOD, and from observing the Contact Prayers (Salat). Will you then refrain?

    June 5, 2011 at 1:22 pm |
  3. Sydney

    I think that it's impossible to separate religion from a person. While not alway overtly influencing how a person feels about topics, religion definitely plays a part. I wouldn't vote for him because of the Church of Latter Day Saints' view of women and gays. That having been said, I wouldn't vote for Huckabee because he's Southern Baptist. I would be leery of voting for a strict Catholic or an Orthodox Jew. It's not necessarily the religion itself, but their views on groups and personal liberties.

    June 5, 2011 at 12:36 pm |
  4. Richard

    It is interesting to me that people refer to LDS members as racists because at one time black members were not able to hold the priesthood (they have always been allowed to join the church through baptism). If we read in Mathew 10:1-5 we read that the Savior himself sent forth His twelve disciples and commanded them to not go unto the Gentiles, nor into any city of the Samaritans, "enter ye not". He does not explain why they were not to teach these people at that time, but rather with faith His disciples obeyed until after some time later, as stated in Chapter 28:19-20, He sent them forth unto all the world.
    Was the Savior prejudice or racist? No! He loved and loves all men, but for some reason (not given in scripture) He did not allow His gospel to be taken unto certain groups of people. Remember that the LDS church is once again lead by prophets who receive direct revelation and so our prophet was directed not to confer the priesthood on black members (no reason given) until the revelation given to our prophet Spencer Kimball in 1978 that allowed all men to receive the priesthood. The Lord is not prejudice, the members should never be prejudice or racist in any way. We strive to love all people as the Lord would have us do, and we have the faith that the Savior leads us through prophets again, as this is the pattern He has set in the Bible.

    June 5, 2011 at 11:45 am |
  5. Jacob Jackson

    Of course his religious beliefs matter. If someone claims to believe that there are beings called angels that visit the earth and talk to people, we should know that. If someone claims to be a Christian but professes to believe that the "word of God" is both the Christian Bible, and the Book of Mormon. These are some statements from the Church of Latter Day Saints official site at http://mormon.org/articles-of-faith?gclid=CNTqheb_nqkCFced7QodmXXCXA :

    We believe in the gift of tongues, prophecy, revelation, visions, healing, interpretation of tongues, and so forth.

    We believe in the literal gathering of Israel and in the restoration of the Ten Tribes; that Zion (the New Jerusalem) will be built upon the American continent; that Christ will reign personally upon the earth; and, that the earth will be renewed and receive its paradisiacal glory.

    Faith healing? Speaking in tongues? "Israel" reformed on the American continent, with the Christ reigning over a perfect earth? Aren't these beliefs rational people should want to be aware of in evaluating the intelligence of a candidate for the presidency?

    June 5, 2011 at 10:54 am |
  6. Benjamin

    If you do not stand for something (John 3:16), you will fall for anything (we can do it)

    June 5, 2011 at 9:49 am |
  7. Venus Smurf

    It really shouldn't matter that he's Mormon. We should be looking at his experience, his qualifications, not his faith. Of course our religious beliefs can affect our values, but if he can do the job, does the rest matter? People were once nervous about the first Catholic president, too, but JFK was one of our most beloved presidents. There's no reason to think Romney won't be able to keep his beliefs out of his policies.

    And I admire Romney for sticking to his faith even though some have given him a hard time over it. I'd only think less of him if he'd "distanced" himself from it as this article claims Huntsman has. After all, if he doesn't even have the courage and strength to stand for his faith, what else would he fail to stand for? We need strength in a leader. A man who backs down in the face of criticism is not a man with strength. Romney hasn't backed down, so point for that.

    June 5, 2011 at 3:40 am |
  8. Richard

    Cult: Formal religious veneration (reverential respect). The Merriam-Webster Dictionary
    Also, Devotion to a person, idea or thing, especially by a body of admirers. Webster's Dictionary
    Sounds like all Christian's fall into these catergories..
    Much has also been said about the "Book of Mormon". The jewish people as a nation believe in the "Old Testament". Christians today are testifying to them of a new book written after the Old Testament was written – The New Testament, and for the most part the Jews are saying, "We have the Old Testament. It is enough and God has not, nor will He give us more". The LDS Church has "The Book of Mormon", the New and Old Testaments of the Bible and prophets that lead and direct for today's climate. For the most part, Christians and Jews are again saying," We have enough!". "God has not, nor will he give more!" Why do so many wish to stop that which God has established as a "pattern" among His children? Is He not the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow? Doe He love the people of olden times more than He does us today? If He created an organization with Prophets, Apostles, Deacons, Priests, Elders, and etc., then who has the right to change His organization? Do we not need guidance and direction from Him with problems of our day, today?

    June 5, 2011 at 12:56 am |
  9. frank

    @Mister Spencer–No, suits and ties in general don't terrify me, just the kind that make it look like the wearer has no rhythm. Those kind scare me to death.

    June 4, 2011 at 6:34 pm |
    • Mister Spencer

      HAHA! I know what you mean:D

      June 4, 2011 at 6:46 pm |
  10. Mister Spencer

    What the person does and how they live are more important than what they profess to believe. As a mormon, I'd vote for a baptist or a jew who is a faithful spouse, devoted parent, and honest, kind, and clean-living person before I would vote for a mormon who drinks, smokes, and cheats on his taxes.
    I am not referring to anyone in particular, just saying we need to elect a righteous man. The religious label doesn't mean anything. Almost every president so far has had a religion, and for many of them, it didn't do them (or us) any good.

    You should seek the inspiration and blessing of God in your choice of candidate (after you have done your research). If you honestly do that, you have nothing to worry about. If you are guided by fear, bigotry, or selfishness when voting, then you are helping to perpetuate everything that's bad about this country.

    June 4, 2011 at 6:21 pm |
  11. frank

    If the Mormon missionaries wore cooler outfits I would probably join. I'm fine with the Book, but the clothes terrify me.

    June 4, 2011 at 6:21 pm |
    • Mister Spencer

      suits and ties terrify you? if so, you would probably be afraid of any politician.

      are you one of those people who gets creeped out anytime you see the cops?

      June 4, 2011 at 6:23 pm |
  12. dTOM

    It"s not their religion that's the problem. It's not even their ugly history of racism. That was the past, and they seem to have gotten over it. It's their looney, nonsensical beliefs about history and race. If they believe crazy junk about American history and African Americans and Native Americans, what crazy stuff WON'T they embrace?

    June 4, 2011 at 6:15 pm |
    • Dorothy Clifton

      I joined the Mormon Church when I was an adult. I checked out many religions and this is the one that "spoke to me". I think it is silly to mention the past "racism" (meaning that black people were not allowed to hold the priesthood for many years) when America as a whole was not only racist but violent with it. As for the nonsensical ideas – what is nonsensical about them? I figure that like most people you read "a little" and think you know the truth. It's like reading the headlines of a newspaper but not bothering to check out the article. When JFK was running for president, everbody was horrified at the idea of a Catholic in the White House. Now we have a black man in the White House. Looking back on all the protestant white presidents we've had – some of them weren't so hot were they? If a man has a religion, and lives up to it, if he is intelligent, and cognizant of all that the U.S. needs to turn itself around into the beautiful country it once was, then who cares what his religion is?

      June 5, 2011 at 1:58 am |
    • M

      I'm not exactly sure what crazy stuff you're referring to here. As others have mentioned, if you do a Google search you're going to get all kinds of misinformation. If you want to know what the LDS Church believes it's best to just ask them. Their website has lots of great information (mormon.org). If you know a member of the faith you can always talk to them, they're quite friendly. If you really want to know what they believe it’s easy to find out and it’s probably not all that strange; if you just want to sling mud, that’s easy too.

      June 5, 2011 at 2:23 am |
  13. Adisa, B.A.

    I think we are straying and probably being allowed by the so called people to use religion as a mind control tool. What we should look at is the candidates' antecedents and then form our opinion. Please respect all religions and desist from being a pawn in the hands of those that would benefit from our naivity. Good luck!!!

    June 4, 2011 at 5:21 pm |
  14. Kevin

    It just goes to show what kind of people read these articles. You all are so ignorant and hateful its ridiculous. You say religion has nothing to do with it, but every 4 out of 5 comments on here are just hateful comments against the Mormon church that you googled and found out from some other ignorant person posting online. Having been a Christian Missionary myself i find it so interesting to see that so many people have gathered together in opposition of a good man who actually has values and wants to put our country back on track so that we can continue to enjoy the freedoms that we find are being challenged. I have had the privilege of having 2 friends of the Mormon Faith growing up and i have never found them to tell a lie, drink, or smoke. And when i heard about their so called crazy beliefs, they didn't hide things from me but rather told me exactly what is was and why they believed the way they did. This is a country of religious freedom and to judge someone so harshly for worshiping god in a way he pleases that does not encroach on any of the liberties that we all are so blessed to enjoy is wrong. I don't know about you, but i think its about time for someone like Mitt Romney who actually has morals to run our country. Hes the only one with the proven background to be able to turn things around from bad to good. For once we can have someone who will actually do what he says he will do. Honesty like that is hard to come by in todays politicians. So don't let your hate of something you know nothing about halt the progression of the great nation. The best choice we have is for Mitt Romney to be our president. So yes i am ready for not just a Mormon but Mitt Romney to be our president.

    June 4, 2011 at 4:23 pm |
    • Cindy


      Thank you for your refreshing comments and for your good heart. Some people are having trouble applying Christian teachingsand principles in their lives, as evidenced by so many of the comments here. You, however, are one who knows the Savior and lives as He has taught. Bless you for your goodness.

      June 4, 2011 at 11:35 pm |
  15. Morgan

    Betty, just in case you didn't see the posting regarding your statement that Mormons are a cult, go to mormon.org and learn about the Latter Day Saints...The Church of JESUS CHRIST of Latter Day Saints. You are like so many people who are afraid of the truth. We do not blast another religion. Get your facts straight. If it really matters, you will go to the web site and if you want to continue believing what you believe, that is your right and privilege. That is why we are called 'the land of the free"

    June 4, 2011 at 2:29 pm |
  16. Cindy

    Senator Harry Reid is the real-deal, a truly compassionate Christian and Latter-Day saint. I admire him for the way he patterns his life. He isn't perfect and sticks his foot in his mouth from time to time, but his values are certainly consistent with Christ's teachings. Those who judge need to examine the beam in their eyes, rather than focusing on motes. Those who are filled with hate and partisanship do not seek truth. Their pride is a stumblingblock and causes them to be easily deceived.

    June 4, 2011 at 2:25 pm |
    • Mister Spencer

      good point. between Reid, Romney, and Huntsman, we see the full political spectrum. goes to show that mormons are free to form their political beliefs.

      also shows the media bias. I have never ever EVER heard of Harry Reid's mormonism being mentioned by the mainstream media, especially not in the negative light that has been cast on Romney.

      June 4, 2011 at 6:29 pm |
  17. Christina

    People do not want a President who is honest, educated, stable, family-oriented, faithful, loyal and successful. They prefer someone more like them–cheaters, liars, un-Godly. People are only comfortable with those they have something in common with.

    June 4, 2011 at 1:55 pm |
  18. jerryg

    I'd love to see a "mormon" president, but not Romney, he's too much of a "RINO" for me to vote for.

    June 4, 2011 at 1:44 pm |
  19. Garrett

    If you look at all the things the Mormon church has done for people, you would know that they are good people. They work closely with the Redcross when disaster happens and give freely to people in need. They continue to store food and supplies so they can help when things like that happen. Wow! Obviously they are a religion who cares for all people. The LDS church teaches family principals and to love their neighbors. They teach people to obey the laws of the land in which they reside.

    June 4, 2011 at 1:36 pm |
  20. Dennis

    Poorly researched article in that Senator Reid D-Nevada, is a faithful Latter-day Saint. Look at his failed policies. Mormonism should be a non-issue this time around.

    June 4, 2011 at 11:57 am |
    • jerryg

      Reid is a very poor example of a "faithful" Latter Day saint ! I know some members of his ward and they'll say the same thing.

      June 4, 2011 at 1:48 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.