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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. Dr. Kolob

    Mormons believe God was once a man, just like you and me. That good Mormons become Gods with their own planets to rule over. Gods with many wives having spirit babies not-stop. Joseph Smith forcibly married a 14 year-old girl, among about 27 others, against her will by coercing her father. Smith wrote 5 very-different versions of the most momentous encounter in human history - his face-to-face conversation with God, no wait, Jesus, er John the Baptist, no angels, pillar of light, pillar of fire. Oh, who can remember the details. Problem is, no one, not even his family nor Mormons followers were told of this event (when God called all churches "an abomination") until 20 years after it happened. Then he proceeded to give 5 versions of the story that did not agree on almost any key detail (like who he saw). The Mormon endowment ceremony is a near-exact copy of the initiation into the Masons (all early Mormon leaders were Masons). And old Joe was caught red-handed faking a "translation" of the Book of Abraham, which still appears in the Book of Mormon today.
    I got nothing against Mormons. Ha. I could even vote for one. Hell, I married one.
    But they are not Christians and they are a cult. They call all other churches false, behind the closed doors of their Sunday services. I have witnessed it myself. They will tell you one thing to your face and teach a radically different thing in their church. They are either programmed liars or members of a cult. Probably both.
    Do your research.

    July 2, 2011 at 9:29 pm |
    • j webb

      Dr. Kolob, will you please define cult? Im not a mormon but people like you obviously are so brainwashed by your own ideas that you have to bash on someone elses beliefs because you are insecure with your own. live and let live and stop being such a hypocrite.

      August 4, 2011 at 12:06 pm |
  2. Student Loans Refinancing

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    June 29, 2011 at 10:51 pm |
  3. John B. Mordecai

    It's kind of embarrassing that this discussion is being had at all. I would be ashamed to be an evangelical Christian right now for this prejudice to be known. I'm a proud supporter of Mitt Romney and the fact that we share the same faith only compels me to have higher expectations of him. Huckabee and McCain entered an unholy union in 2008. The only thing is I'm glad because since we've polarized so far left and seen the mess it's made, maybe now we get back to business of being the great country America is meant to be.

    June 29, 2011 at 9:16 pm |
  4. Marie Kidman

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

    June 23, 2011 at 11:45 am |
  5. william

    Funny how some Christians consider Mormonism a cult. What is anything but a cult with many believers? In a word, nothing. There's no proof whatsoever that any of the thousands of religions worldwide have any basis in fact, and all of them grew from a small group of people to general acceptance through power, intimidation, ostracism, humiliation, and finally threats, imprisonment, torture, and murder. I think the "Christians" bloviating loudest against Mormonism should take a long look at the sordid history of their faith befor disparaging others.

    June 15, 2011 at 5:01 pm |
    • Chris

      Couldn't have said it better myself. Down with religion...or at least religion in politics.

      June 18, 2011 at 1:24 pm |
  6. JesseRoss447

    I left the main stream LDS church because it has become no more than an evangelistic church with the Book of Mormon that teaches no more than evangelic dotrine and watered down temple services. Joseph Smith and Brigham Young would not know the church of today. Those who like to call other religions names should read about their origins and see how much they match today. I have read the writings of the Wesley brothers and find many differences between them and modern Methodist. BTW I hold the Wesley's teachings in great esteem and though they probably wouldn't agree with the Church of Jesus Christ of LDS they wouldn't criticize it either. The LDS church truly believes in separation of Church and State, how else can you explain the two highest ranking Senators–Harry Reid and (brain f....)–the highest ranking Senator in the judicial committee. The only thing of his religion that Mitt Romney would bring to the Presidency is his integrity and his praying over important matters–the same thing George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Ronald Reagan, The Bushes, JFK and many others broght to the office.

    June 13, 2011 at 3:28 pm |
    • passivepennies

      doesnt matter whose in charge . do yourself a favour and take care of your own finances , check out passive income ideas at http://www.passivepennies.com

      June 13, 2011 at 6:46 pm |
  7. American

    Hell No!!

    June 13, 2011 at 9:45 am |
    • AS$.HAT

      .

      June 13, 2011 at 9:55 am |
  8. oklacherokee

    I am member of The Church Of Jesus Christ Of Latter Day Saints and have been for many years and I know the church is True and { The Book Of Mormon } is another testment of Jesus Christ and I feel people needs to get the TRUE facts before they judge on what they do not know. I know My Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ Lives and that the Holy Spirit is my companion Amen, and We shouldn't judge a person by there religion learn who this person is, for are next president will be the one who will help the people and not think of themselfs and walk in christlike .

    June 12, 2011 at 3:46 pm |
  9. Rick

    Why not focus on Harry Reid's religion, same as Mitt, but Mitt gets all the questions and Reid gets zero criticism. Double standard at least.

    June 12, 2011 at 10:41 am |
  10. Muneef

    Today 10 June 2011 heard over the news about the little baby cow that had been genetically modified to produce milk similar to Human Female milk...! Again they said that this experiment is already effective in China with large number of cows and already ready for export as dried powder milk...!

    Now let us see;
    Old cows used to produce cows milk.
    New cows is to produce Human Female milk..

    This in religion is not justified since interfering and the changing of nature is considered as corruption on earth....! Some will say this is backward and give credit to science for such experiment to go on wide scale...but on the day they find how wrong they were when they experience that such thing had made some genetic interference with the generation that will consume such milks then only when too late they admit to mistake but still remain disbelievers..

    Feeding cows which God created to feed on grass and forage, that man has made it to become to feed on feeds prepared from animals/birds wastes and blood meals has created what became to be known as "Cows Madness Disease". Such nature breaking moves unapproved religiously or logically has created losses for effected farmers herds besides having effected all those consumed it's products for long to have similar effects....no wonder that even politicians and holy men got effected and do mad things to the innocence of mankind....

    Now by adopting this genetical mutilation today to a Cow to produce Human Female Milk....beside already read about introducing female pigs for the same purpose... Soon seems will see human complexions maybe changing to look differently or God knows what could happen...!

    Still the Old and the New issues goes around forging even Animal genetics to become some thing else than it's natural creation was for....!
    Just isn't that have some how similarity to "Old Testament & New Testament" ? Do you think it had as well faced in the past some genetic mutilations that has caused it to produce extreme ignorance among it's followers to follow their Popes or Pastors or Rubies blindly with out second thought considering them as next to God on earth ?!!

    Sorry you are not alone in that since maybe as well Islamic religion had the same through a big bunch of Hadith's that might never could the Quran have mentioned nor the Prophet did say...but made up and inserted by the Israelites and the pagans of Mecca for a purpose God knows what but surely it did produce extreme ignorance among those who follow Hadith imams blindly with out second thought considering them as next to God on earth ?!!

    Hope am not disturbing any one with my comment since they were just a passing thoughts that I thought to sure with you. Peace2All.

    June 11, 2011 at 3:51 pm |
    • You are a dork!

      Yes, you are a dork!

      June 13, 2011 at 9:43 am |
  11. Jueceman

    Being morman has nothing to do with being President of the United States, and if you think so, you have been brainwashed.

    June 10, 2011 at 2:27 pm |
  12. Clark

    Don't listen to what you hear from someone else, because they heard it from somebody else. Read & learn for yourself about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latterday Saints, Then pray about it then you'll know for yourself about the truth.

    June 9, 2011 at 11:10 am |
  13. DJfromIowa

    One of the definitions of a cult from Webster's Dictionary is: great devotion to a person, idea, or thing. So, does that mean all the people sitting in there local bars drinking tonight is a cult because they are devoted to the idea of drinking? If you care to know what The Church Of Jesus Christ Of Latter Day Saints believes in go to lds.org and look up our Articles Of Faith.

    June 9, 2011 at 12:09 am |
  14. Saint Dismas

    Reading these posts, I'm ashamed that as a nation we've become so breathtakingly rude that whoever gets elected may be too good for us. Is this really what we want our country to become? – a pack of squabbling factions trading the crudest sort of insults? I'm a Mormon, and I would encourage fellow members to avoid flippant responses and express themselves with a good will and civility consistent with their convictions. The mockery of others is no excuse for us. We know what we've been taught, even if others don't, and the best way to demonstrate our convictions is to live them consistently, even in the face of ridicule.

    June 8, 2011 at 2:54 pm |
  15. Voice of Reason

    Ironic that one of the things that make this country great – the priciples upon which it was founded and seperated it from the rest – was that of religious freedom. And now there has to be a religious litmus test before you can run for president. How sad.

    Obama had to deal with the nuts who said they wouldnt believe he was American till they saw the birth certificate. Romney'll have the same sort of deluded fruitcakes who wont believe he's a christian till Jesus himself comes down and says so.

    Can we just have all the primaries on the same day so this sort of nonsense wont matter anymore?

    June 7, 2011 at 12:24 pm |
    • Steve

      I suppose it doesn't matter what Rev. Wright preached while Obama attended his church for 20 years. Nothing matters, just blindly vote for Romney...

      June 18, 2011 at 3:40 pm |
  16. Short & Sweet

    Nope

    June 7, 2011 at 3:19 am |
  17. Muneef

    Guess hope if it does happen that he would follow before any thing else these laws;

    -----
    [7:85] To Midyan we sent their brother Shu`aib. He said, "O my people, worship GOD; you have no other god beside Him. Proof has come to you from your Lord. You shall give full weight and full measure when you trade. Do not cheat the people out of their rights. Do not corrupt the earth after it has been set straight. This is better for you, if you are believers.

    [7:86] "Refrain from blocking every path, seeking to repel those who believe from the path of GOD, and do not make it crooked. Remember that you used to be few and He multiplied your number. Recall the consequences for the wicked.
    -----–

    [11:84] To Midyan we sent their brother Shu`aib. He said, "O my people, worship GOD; you have no other god beside Him. Do not cheat when you measure or weigh. I see that you are prosperous, and I fear for you the retribution of an overwhelming day.

    [11:85] "O my people, you shall give full measure and full weight, equitably. Do not cheat the people out of their rights, and do not roam the earth corruptingly.

    [11:86] "Whatever GOD provides for you, no matter how small, is far better for you, if you are really believers. I am not a guardian over you."
    ------–

    [26:181] "You shall give full measure when you trade; do not cheat.

    [26:182] "You shall weigh with an equitable scale.

    [26:183] "Do not cheat the people out of their rights, and do not roam the earth corruptingly. 
    -------- 

    June 6, 2011 at 6:50 pm |
  18. Scott

    Why is it whenever the topic of Mormonism is discussed there are always thousands of responses? It brings all the crazies out. Do you really think that calling us a cult gets us worked up anymore? It just shows your bigotry and lack of education. I guarantee that anyone who uses that word to describe mormons probably believes that all muslims are evil and empathize with racist ideas. Uneducated, and boring.

    June 6, 2011 at 1:30 pm |
  19. Michael

    This comment deserves to be posted again; where's the like button?

    @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 6, 2011 at 9:28 am |
  20. jonathan curci

    Mormonism is not a cult, only ignorant people can think that a religion that includes poligamy (altough mormonism does not apply it now) defines it as a cult: was Abraham a cult monger and all the Jews in Muslim countries and their Moslem cousins? Sacred and then secret aspects of the JEwish TEmple make Judaism a cult? You spewers of ignorance who define Mormonism as a cult are you going to say that also Judaism is a cult? Go ahead and I will accuse you of antisemitism. Stop listening to ignorants in religious matters and get smart vote for Romney next time you Americans have the chance

    June 6, 2011 at 1:31 am |
    • Steve

      There was absolutely nothing secretive about the Jewish temple. It's ceremony was fully explained within the Old Testament scriptures ...unlike the Mormon temple with its masonic blood oaths of secrecy.

      June 18, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.