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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. Moron

    We already had a MORON president (Georgie Junior) so no thanks to Mittens the Mormon.

    June 2, 2011 at 5:09 pm |
    • M

      I think you've misspelled something there.

      June 2, 2011 at 5:56 pm |
  2. Loren

    Sorry, Mitt, but you could be the smartest man in the world, but if you profess the Mormon faith, then you surely cannot be the smartest man in the world. (Being born in Illinois, I know enough about the Mormon faith from school and what I have learned since to feel sorry for people who believe it, but not enough to vote for one.)

    June 2, 2011 at 5:08 pm |
    • ELH

      Enlighten us, Loren. What does the Illinois school system teach its students about Mormonism? It sounds as if you are a bigoted fool, but I'll reserve judgement pending an answer to my question.

      June 2, 2011 at 5:12 pm |
    • No Kolobites

      Probably the belief that Jesus hung out with the natives in America after his resurrection. That and the "religion" sprung up in 1820 puts a damper on it. Most Christians put Mormonism in the same category as Scientology.

      June 2, 2011 at 5:32 pm |
    • rep

      No, most evangelicals put Mormonism in the same category as Scientology. Most Christians accept them as fellow Christians. Their whole religion is centered around Christ, afterall.

      June 2, 2011 at 5:42 pm |
    • No Kolobites

      No, Christians have the Old Testament and New Testament, not the Book of Mormon. "For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this Book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this Book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the Book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the Book of Life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this Book" Revelation 22:18-19

      June 2, 2011 at 5:59 pm |
    • M

      Mormons beive in the Old Testament, the New Testament and the Book of Mormon. Christ is the center of all three (yes even the Old Testament).

      The scripture you reference, @No Kolobites, is from Revelations and refers only to the Book of Revelations. If it referred to the Bible as a whole (which wasn't compiled until hundreds of years after the fact) then many of the books of the Bible would fall in this category since they were written chronologically after Revelations. Look it up.

      June 2, 2011 at 6:07 pm |
    • No Kolobites

      M- There are no historical records or archealogical findings of the events Joseph Smith dreamed up in his head. New & Old Testament = TRUE Book of Mormon = FALSE. At least Moses should the Israelites the tablets brought down from the mountain before he broke them. Joseph Smith's golden tablets?
      And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many. Matthew 24:11

      June 2, 2011 at 6:25 pm |
  3. M

    We're ready! We've had a black president. The next one should be either a Mormon or a woman.

    June 2, 2011 at 5:08 pm |
    • mb2010a

      I would come closer to voting for a woman than a Morman...

      June 2, 2011 at 5:12 pm |
    • No Kolobites

      How about an Asian for President? Maybe we can offshore the job!

      June 2, 2011 at 5:20 pm |
    • M

      I would vote for an Asian candidate, no problem. I think we need to be an example to the rest of the world of what true democracy is. We criticize the counties in the middle east for voting along religious lines between Sunnis and Shiites, Muslims and Hindus. But here we are doing the exact same thing. It's just plain bigotry and we need to get over it.

      June 2, 2011 at 5:46 pm |
  4. ELH

    A number of people hewing to the Mormon faith have served this country in high office. Congressmen, cabinet members, appointees. However, in a national election, Being a Mormon will no doubt be held against Romney by many of his own party. The next election is, however, Obama's to lose, not someone else's to win.

    June 2, 2011 at 5:08 pm |
  5. MJB

    If obivously does not matter what religion you have. As obama clown says hes a christian and we all know he was involved for 20 years with a rev that was extrmeely radical.

    June 2, 2011 at 5:06 pm |
  6. Diane

    I am one of the liberals who would never vote for Romney. I personally find the LDS church offense to women. I completely disagree with proxy baptisms. There are too many negatives for me to ever consider voting for a Mormon.

    June 2, 2011 at 5:06 pm |
    • M

      That just ain't right. You vote based on the doctrines of the candiates' religions? So, what about all the wacky teachings in other faiths (ahem Obama's prior, somewhat radical preacher)? Have you really examined them in depth? Something tells me you haven't. You're just pulling something out of the air because you've already made up your mind that you don't like Mormons.

      June 2, 2011 at 5:15 pm |
  7. looking for truth

    Not many religious faiths require unwavering adherence to a living person's commandments. Many faiths have texts that members try to follow, but the LDS Church (Mormon) claims that their prophet's words are to be taken to have priority over their texts, and that the Prophet's words must be followed in all things. You can read it on the church's website:
    http://lds.org/liahona/1981/06/fourteen-fundamentals-in-following-the-prophet?lang=eng&noLang=true&path=/liahona/1981/06/fourteen-fundamentals-in-following-the-prophet

    June 2, 2011 at 5:06 pm |
    • Found truth; looking for beer

      So divine revelation is not a valid way of gaining the truth or knowing god(s)? Better not tell the rest of the Christians or anyone else for that matter.

      June 2, 2011 at 5:09 pm |
    • M

      The LDS Church also teaches that each person needs to pray and think and find out for themselves if the instruction that they are getting is correct and to know how to proceed. This applies to instruction that comes from and and all church leaders, including the prophet.

      June 2, 2011 at 5:18 pm |
  8. nelbod021@comcast.net

    Watch Mitt Romney, you mite have give up your Mormon faith, like President Obama had to give up his faith

    June 2, 2011 at 5:06 pm |
    • R.J.

      Er, President Obama is still a Christian–just like he was before the election. Those who CHOOSE to believe something else are simply choosing to be ignorant. Sad.

      June 2, 2011 at 5:13 pm |
  9. Duane - St.Pete FL

    I don't care if he worships the sun, he's a proven to be successful in business and he provided great leadership with the Olympic games.....with Obama having done nothing to help get the jobs going and spending and debit way up, why wouldn't we want a guy who has PROVEN fiscal success in the White House? We voted in a black because of all our white guilt, give the Mormon a chance.....look at what Obama's economy is doing......double dip reseeion with no end in sight.....and he wants to keep spending!!!

    June 2, 2011 at 5:05 pm |
    • looking for truth

      There is a difference in following the Mormon Prophet and worshiping the sun. What if the Mormon prophet says that LDS members must do x, y, or z? According to Mitt's faith he would have to do it regardless of whether he agrees with it, or if it is in the best interests of the country. The sun won't ever tell you what to do. You can read more about what I mean in this link:

      http://lds.org/liahona/1981/06/fourteen-fundamentals-in-following-the-prophet?lang=eng&noLang=true&path=/liahona/1981/06/fourteen-fundamentals-in-following-the-prophet

      June 2, 2011 at 5:10 pm |
    • Duane - St.Pete FL

      I think we would all be fine..........

      June 2, 2011 at 5:13 pm |
    • Russ

      I don't give a damn what religion he is, because once you get into office the only time religion should come up is if you go to church on Sunday. During the week while you're running my country keep you damn religious beliefs off the table. A lot of us don't put our faith in some magical man in the sky. We belief in real life, not some ancient script written by a bunch of wanta be profits. And what magical hat is ole Mitt going to pull his jobs creation out of. Tax cuts for his rich buddies sure haven't worked. One more thing to all you 'don't spend my tax money on abortions' idiots. There is a hell of a lot of tax payers that want ours spent to give abortions so we don't have to support all the unwanted kids. What about that?

      June 2, 2011 at 5:13 pm |
    • mb2010a

      "he's a proven to be successful in business and he provided great leadership with the Olympic games." Sounds more like a community organizer to me...

      June 2, 2011 at 5:16 pm |
    • LEON CHILDS

      Why does white America feels guilty Duane because we hold nothing against you. We have been through hard times before and we have always made it because we are a resilient people. I cannot speak for anyone else but I can speak for myself, I voted for Obama because he is smarter more intellect and more courageous then you and the whole GOP ticket put together. So in the near future don't admit your guilt but please admit your hidden racism because I see it.

      June 2, 2011 at 5:18 pm |
    • rep.

      I agree. It doesn't really matter what religion the president is if he does his duty properly. Romney has got a long record of thinking and acting independently from the Church. Some people (@looking for truth) may be concerend that he might somehow be influenced by the president of the LDS Church. That's just not how it works. In the LDS faith, the prophet and other leaders always extend invitations, not commands or decrees. They teach principles. Members are taught to think for themselves and pray about any instruction coming from leaders to know if and how to respond.

      June 2, 2011 at 5:28 pm |
  10. The Next Generation

    Separation of church and state...whatever happened to that?

    June 2, 2011 at 5:05 pm |
    • Duncan MacLeod

      That's is exactly the point. A Mormon can't make that separation. Their first loyalty WILL be to their church, and their "prophet" . Do you really want a US president that always wears his "Jesus jammies" (Garment of Righteousness) under his clothing and at all times? If you doubt it, look it up.

      June 2, 2011 at 5:13 pm |
    • rep.

      I think it is we, the populace, that need to make that separation. We shouldn't use a man's religion as a way to keep him out of politics. That's what it means. It doesn't mean that a religious person can't be president.

      June 2, 2011 at 5:31 pm |
    • rep.

      I don't see what the garment has to do with anything. Catholics (and many other Christian denominations) wear crosses at all times. Jewish men wear skullcaps. Heck, Sikhs wear a small dagger and a turban. Everyone has some way of reminding themselves of their values and their faith.

      June 2, 2011 at 5:38 pm |
  11. No Kolobites

    Romney being a Mormon isn't his biggest problem, but him being a corporate suit is! Bankrupting companies with exorbitant "management fees", offshoring US jobs, while he profited and the people who relied on those jobs suffered . And the economy is in his "wheelhouse"?! Yeah, thats what America needs a guy who can make sure the rich get richer faster and the middle class vanishes!

    June 2, 2011 at 5:02 pm |
  12. Gullible christians

    Are mormons as gullible as christians?

    June 2, 2011 at 5:01 pm |
    • Mark

      Are agnostics as gullible as atheists?

      June 2, 2011 at 5:13 pm |
    • rep.

      Mormons are Christians... so yes.

      June 2, 2011 at 5:39 pm |
  13. The Bobinator

    Bah, now I'm being targeted for fake posting. 😦

    June 2, 2011 at 5:01 pm |
    • Rogue

      😦
      It happened to me too. CNN's editors just don't get it. They deserve to lose their jobs for being incompetent.

      June 2, 2011 at 5:31 pm |
  14. stonedwhitetrash

    All a person has to do is study how the grifter Joseph Smith started the Mormon church and then decide if you want a man who believes that cult crap to be our president. However the Mormon's do have a good spin on the afterlife everyone goes to one of several heavens. this beats the hell out of the evangelicals version.

    June 2, 2011 at 5:01 pm |
  15. Nonimus

    @anonmormoninidaho,
    "...even athiests admit there is some evidence for the bible and Christ, altough they do not believe in a god or that Christ was anyting more than an average man. Mormonism however can be proven false. If you study it you will see what I mean."

    So which religion is more false than the other? I couldn't say.

    June 2, 2011 at 5:00 pm |
    • Nonimus

      Posted in the wrong spot.

      June 2, 2011 at 5:03 pm |
  16. Gullible christians

    Ron Paul 2012!

    June 2, 2011 at 5:00 pm |
    • pg

      I'll admit the aftermath and complete destruction of our economy would be fun to watch

      June 2, 2011 at 5:03 pm |
    • HiddenShadows

      Anything is better then what we have been having.

      June 2, 2011 at 5:09 pm |
  17. kakaraka

    What? Romit's economic policies are already and are the same like Ryan Paul: cut more taxes for wealthies, big corporations, cut help programs for the poor. Nothing new. More of the same. Du deja vu.

    June 2, 2011 at 5:00 pm |
  18. ed

    Easy for the right wing racists, they will give up their faith in a heartbeat instead of vote for the black Christian.
    Jesus would be so proud.

    June 2, 2011 at 4:59 pm |
  19. Gullible christians

    It is a shame that 70% of americans are gullible christians.
    Romney is wasting his time.

    June 2, 2011 at 4:59 pm |
  20. js

    I think this is an irrelevant question... if we were ready for a black president, we should be ready for almost anyone, provided that he/she/it can give the impression he/she/it can lead the country. Giving the impression and actually being able to achieve what he/she/it promises are two different things – so don't confuse things!

    June 2, 2011 at 4:59 pm |
    • NOo..oON

      I know a black, muslim (converted from Judaism), woman whose father is Asian and mother is Mexican?

      June 2, 2011 at 5:06 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.