August 14th, 2012
11:50 AM ET

Romney-Ryan ticket makes U.S. religious history

By Josh Levs, CNN

(CNN) - In selecting Paul Ryan for his running mate, Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney has made modern political history: a major party ticket with no Protestant Christian.

Some historians call it the first ever. Others say it's technically the first since Abraham Lincoln. And there is an argument to be made regarding Dwight Eisenhower.

But in any case, "this Republican ticket really symbolizes the passing of an era," said William Galston, senior fellow with the Brookings Institution.

Romney is Mormon. Ryan is Catholic.

It's a trend also reflected in the Supreme Court. Once dominated by Protestants, there are now none among the nine justices, Galston noted. "All the groups that make up the new American population, as opposed to the population of 50 years ago, are now participating on equal" terms, in politics and American society in general, he said.

"It's quietly dramatic."

With or without Romney, Washington’s a Mormon stronghold

For months, it appeared likely that the GOP would choose a non-Protestant for its presidential nominee for the first time in modern history. But the number two slot remained in question.

In choosing a running mate who is Catholic, Romney showed that he is not worried about damaging support among Protestants, "especially those who don't think of themselves as evangelicals," Galston said. "I'm not saying that Romney thought he could afford to take them for granted. But clearly he felt that he could reach out in another direction."

Half the U.S. population identifies as Protestant, while a quarter identifies as Catholic, according to the American Religious Identification Survey from Trinity College, published in 2009. Mormons are at 1.4%, just behind Jews at 1.8%. Muslims comprise 0.3% of the population.

The electorate has reshaped over the last several decades, including along religious lines, Galston said. Conservatives within each denomination have built alliances over core issues that outweigh denominational differences.

Opinion: Paul Ryan provokes debate over Catholic politics

"The old lines between Catholics and Protestants which were dominant in our politics as recently as the 1960 election have been replaced by new lines of division, not between denominations but within them. So you now have a coalition of evangelical protestants and traditionalist Catholics, and Orthodox Jews as well. ... It is a very important fact about American politics today."

In 1960, John F. Kennedy faced questions from some voters concerned he would take orders from the pope. That kind of skepticism is virtually unheard of today, Galston said.

Abortion - particularly the Supreme Court's 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade that women have a constitutional right to an abortion - played a key role in building the new alliance among conservatives of different denominations, Galston said.

"From the standpoint of conservative Republicans, the fact that Paul Ryan is down-the-line pro-life is much more important than the fact that he's a Catholic rather than a Protestant," he said.

People within each denomination who support abortion rights and take liberal stances on numerous issues, meanwhile, have formed similar bonds on the Democratic side.

Romney's success in the battle for the presidential nomination also reflects how times have changed.

Neither major party has ever had a Mormon nominee.

Mormons consider themselves a Christian religion, but a restoration of the early church and therefore distinguished from Protestant tradition. Some Christians do not see Mormonism as a part of Christianity.

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Protestantism began as a movement breaking off from the Catholic Church in the 16th century.

Presidential historian Douglas Brinkley says Americans have achieved enough comfort with Mormonism to make room for a possible Romney presidency.

"Are we ready for a Mormon president? I think the answer is yes," Brinkley said in an interview with CNN in January.

The Mormon population is growing quickly, and more and more people have Mormon friends, he said. "It's no longer a fringe group growing up. It's a powerful and important religion."

Mormons have been recruiting Southern Baptists and Methodists to join their fold, making inroads in communities across the country and raising money, Brinkley said. "The Mormon Church is booming when some of the other denominations are struggling for cash and converts."

Mark Silk, professor of religion in public life at Trinity College, said most American voters are "prepared to think about people who are not Protestant to be president."

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On the Democratic side, President Barack Obama is Protestant, while Vice President Joe Biden is Catholic. Obama's race, of course, distinguishes him in another way from the white Anglo-Saxon Protestants who have nearly always inhabited the White House.

A survey last month by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found "little evidence to suggest that concerns about the candidates' respective faiths will have a meaningful impact in the fall elections."

Among those who know Romney is Mormon, 60% said they are comfortable with his religion, while 19% said they are not.

Among those who know Obama is Christian, 82% were comfortable and 12% were uncomfortable.

The survey found 60% of respondents know Romney's religion. Only 49% know Obama is Christian, while 17% think he is Muslim.

While some headlines declare Romney-Ryan ticket the first ever major party ticket without a Protestant, there may be an exception from the days of Lincoln.

Lincoln himself "didn't belong to any church, wouldn't have described himself as a Protestant," Silk said. Lincoln did express a deep belief in a God.

His first vice president, Hannibal Hamlin, was Protestant, according to adherents.com, which tracks the religious affiliations of presidents and vice presidents throughout U.S. history.

In his second run, Lincoln took on Andrew Johnson as his number two. While some sources refer to Johnson having Baptist parents, he "is not known to have ever been an official member of any church," adherents.com says.

Among Democrats, Kennedy; John Kerry, who is Catholic; and Michael Dukakis, who is Greek Orthodox, had running mates who were Protestant.

Republican Presidents Herbert Hoover and Richard Nixon were Quakers, and Eisenhower was a Jehovah's Witness but converted to Presbyterianism after his inauguration, according to adherents.com.

The Quaker tradition grew of Protestantism, though Quakers generally reject the Protestant label. Under that reading, one could argue that the Eisenhower-Nixon ticket of 1952, before Eisenhower's conversion, did not include a Protestant.

While the two presidential tickets this year reflect a religious pluralism, it remains centered only on Christian denominations - setting aside the question of whether Mormonism fits a traditional definition of Christian.

Just how much of a chance a candidate of another religion would have at the presidency is another question.

Some believe that Joe Lieberman, the Democratic vice presidential nominee in 2000 who ran for the party's nomination in 2004, was not hampered by being Jewish. "I don't think that the classic triad Catholic-Protestant-Jew makes a difference at all," Galston said. "Joe Lieberman's candidacy foundered, but not because he was Jewish."

But there has never been a Jewish presidential nominee. And just how a Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, or member of any other religion would fare is another question.

And analysts agree that voters would quickly reject a candidate who does not believe in God - even if he or she had been raised Christian.

"Whether anyone would accept a professed out-of-the-closet atheist, no," Galston said. "You'd probably have a better chance as a former member of the Taliban."

Weigh in on this story at Facebook or Twitter.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: 2012 Election • Christianity • Mormonism • Paul Ryan

soundoff (410 Responses)
  1. Sam

    Then there are religious sellouts like Nikki Haley of SC and Bobby Jindal of LA who "converted" to Christianity so that they can participate in American politics.

    August 14, 2012 at 2:26 pm |
    • toad

      If you ever want to enter public life through election you'd best convert too. Christianity may not be necessary, but at least something that will make you presentable.

      August 14, 2012 at 2:38 pm |
    • William Demuth

      If ANYONE was ever sandbagging for the towel heads it would be that Jindal charachter.

      He is a caricature of some foreigner, not quite easy to map, but oozes third world dictator

      I can see him in some K-Mart version of a Generals uniform from Biafra or Bangledesh

      August 14, 2012 at 2:42 pm |
  2. William Demuth

    So the Protestants are on the outs.

    Next Oral Roberts and Jerry Falwell will convert.

    Soon the Protestants join the Zoroastrians in the Hall Of Forgotten Faiths!

    August 14, 2012 at 2:26 pm |
  3. Carole

    Here is one for the books!! 6 years ago our daughter married a person of the Mormon faith. We now have 3 grandchildren. Our son will marry a Catholic girl next month. My husband will preside at the ceremony next month – he has been a LUTHERAN pastor for over 30 years!!!

    August 14, 2012 at 2:14 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      that's a sad story. i'm sorry to hear your family members are in various cults. cults are dangerous. they are unhealthy. seek help and perhaps you can save them. push them to think for themselves.

      August 14, 2012 at 2:19 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      that's a sad story. i'm sorry to hear your family members are in v.arious cults. cults are dangerous. they are unhealthy. seek help and perhaps you can save them. push them to think for themselves.

      August 14, 2012 at 2:19 pm |
    • William Demuth

      So if one of your kids blows himself up outsie a US military base, them you win the trifeca or absurd beliefs!

      August 14, 2012 at 2:23 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      that's a sad story. i'm sorry to hear your family members are in v.arious cults. cults are dangerous. they are unhealthy. seek help and perhaps you can save them. push them to think for themselves.

      August 14, 2012 at 2:23 pm |
    • William Demuth

      Looks like Booty's reply button is stuck!

      August 14, 2012 at 2:26 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      sorry for the spam everyone, not really sure how that happened. hehe.

      August 14, 2012 at 2:35 pm |
    • PerceivedReality

      So you think for yourself? And I guess you are insinuating that Christians do not think for themselves or even think at all is that right? I bet you get all your information to base your theory of reality from science books and athiest literature yet you think you think for yourself. I have read athiest websites and plenty of athiest comments. I have also studied science as a hobby most of my life. If you would think, you could come to the conclusion that the human perspective of the universe could very well be likened to the perspective of bacteria in a petrie dish. You probably think that God doesn't exist, but I think it is not only probable, but altogether neccessary for the reality I experience. So if you want to believe that everything comes from nothing because of nothing and will once again become nothing for no reason whatsoever than be my guest, but please do not pretend that your narrow point of view makes you more intelligent than a Christian. I am a Christian because the words of Jesus ring true instantly in my mind, they make the irrational, rational something logic and reason cannot do. When logic and reason failed to answer my question or make apparant the reason for a reality, his words do. So please reconsider your disposition toward my brothers and sisters including you! You are not just a organic robot destined for the particle recycler but an image of a being far more intelligent, loving, powerful and creative than you could imagine. He wants to spend eternity loving you and recieving your love. Alas I believe most athiest to arrogant and proud to ever humble themselves to the possibilty that their infantile reason, judgment and logic could lead them astray. I hope one day you will put away your grasping of particles with your limited intellect and just open your being to the way the truth and the light of Jesus Christ.

      August 15, 2012 at 12:00 pm |
  4. R-USA

    So the Godless Millionaire and the Godless Brown Noser to MillionIres, want the greatest generation to go away and die. I don't think so. Hey Gen X Millionaires and Gen X wanna be Millionaires, if you don't want to pay your fair share of living in America. Pack up your company and your family and get out. America will replace you.

    August 14, 2012 at 2:13 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      churches don't pay their fair share. guess they should pack up and get out too?

      August 14, 2012 at 2:21 pm |
    • PerceivedReality

      I do not think they mind paying their "fair share" I believe fair left about 60 years ago. The govt should provide for the common defense and basic logistics of running the nation, not provide safety nets for the unscrupulous and lazy to exploit. Why do you think rich people owe you anything? What makes you think they should pay for your medical care or anything else? When will you realize that medicare/caid and social security are unsustainable? Why would older people want to destroy thier childrens and grandchildrens future so they can go see an extremely overpriced doctor anytime they want? Man that has to be the epitamy of selfishness, all so they can try to cling to this temporary existence just a little longer. Do you ever wonder why medical care is so outragiously expensive? Why don't we concentrate on educating more doctors and drasticly driving down the costs so you do not even need insurance? How did people go see a doctor 100 years ago? Why is it so expensive now?

      August 15, 2012 at 12:13 pm |
  5. Bootyfunk

    OMG! two christian candidates - that's definitely history!!!

    lol, what a joke.

    show me a ticket where one is an atheist and one is a toaist and i'll celebrate. two chrisitans from two different christian sects and it's history? laughable.

    August 14, 2012 at 2:12 pm |
    • Solo Man

      A man is defined by his actions, not what he calls himself.

      August 14, 2012 at 2:18 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      agreed. but it would be refreshing to have something but christians in our electorate.

      August 14, 2012 at 2:20 pm |
  6. jo an

    The ticket of GREED...Michael Douglas should speak at the Democratic Convention....GREED IS GOOD!!!

    August 14, 2012 at 2:08 pm |
    • Mass Debater

      lol, at the Democratic convention? I think you meant Republican convention, they are the ones demanding a repeal of wall street reform and oversight. They want to take us back to the white nosed days of the mid to late 80's just before the savings and loan scandal or the high stakes gambling of the W Bush years, where they get to gamble with our money so if they make a bad bet we get to bail them out, and if they make a good bet they get to keep all the profits. It would be funny if it wasn't actually happening.

      August 14, 2012 at 2:28 pm |
    • PerceivedReality

      I would take the mid 80's over the past 4 years any day of the week

      August 15, 2012 at 12:19 pm |
  7. Kris

    Who cares that there is no protestant on the ticket?

    August 14, 2012 at 2:05 pm |
    • R-USA

      George Bush cares

      August 14, 2012 at 2:15 pm |
    • William Demuth

      They do.

      They are a paranoid lot.

      First Sharia law, now this?

      Oh how the righteous have fallen

      August 14, 2012 at 2:28 pm |
    • sam

      I wish it would stop being an issue.

      August 14, 2012 at 2:38 pm |
  8. yneeemee

    Render unto CNN what is CNN's – CNN will do ANYTHING to stir up trouble... if it helps Obama

    August 14, 2012 at 2:04 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      go back to faux news.

      August 14, 2012 at 2:13 pm |
    • PerceivedReality

      I am sure bootyfunk prefers msnbc for her truth.

      August 15, 2012 at 12:20 pm |
  9. Floyd from Illinois

    Ryan trying to distance himself from his history of devotion to Randism is just another etch-a-sketch moment.

    Romney, the oiriginal etch-a-sketch candidate, sure picked the right guy as his #2.

    August 14, 2012 at 2:01 pm |
    • PerceivedReality

      Lol and I suppose you prefer Barack's mentors.

      August 15, 2012 at 12:23 pm |
  10. Matt

    The bottom line is that anyone who is a politician is not a Christian. True Christians do not take part in politics, thus following Jesus' teachings of being no part of the world. So it really doesn't matter. They are all part of Satan's wicked system of things which will soon be crushed as described a Daniel 2:44. True Christians remain neutral in the politics and conflicts of this world.

    August 14, 2012 at 1:59 pm |
    • R-USA

      Check you meds,

      August 14, 2012 at 2:16 pm |
    • William Demuth

      Thats why they sat out the Crusades and sponsored the Holocaust right?

      It seems your dogma just doo dooed on your altar

      August 14, 2012 at 2:29 pm |
    • Matt

      Those who took part in the Crusades were not true Christians. Jesus said those who live by the sword will die by the sword. This set the principle for Christians. Isa 2:2-4 also makes is clear as to how true followers of Christ would during the last days, learn war no more. Please do some research about the true Christians who were victims of the Holocaust because of refusing to take part in the military, specifically in Germany. You may be surprised – look up not the yellow star of David, but read about those who wore the purple triangle in the concentration camps.

      August 14, 2012 at 3:10 pm |
    • ME II

      ...then check the thing you are connecting to the internet with, as it seems to be part of this world.

      August 14, 2012 at 5:42 pm |
    • PerceivedReality

      It took centuries of brutality by the muslims before the catholic church ordered the crusades I suppose you think the Christians should of just jumped on the schimatars of the muslims! You should actually thank the crusaders because if not for their efforts you may have been a "dancing boy" instead of who you are now.

      August 15, 2012 at 12:28 pm |
  11. sparky55

    I don't know what protestants think but as a catholic I think most of us believe Mormons are protestants. There are Catholics and catholic lite which is everybody else who says their christians.

    August 14, 2012 at 1:56 pm |
    • sam

      I thought episcopalian was catholic lite.

      August 14, 2012 at 2:40 pm |
  12. Solo Man

    Atheist philosopy of Ayn Rand = Paul Ryan Medicare and budget plan.

    Sign on Atheists and push granny over the cliff....

    August 14, 2012 at 1:55 pm |
    • IslandAtheist

      Seer stones and wafers.

      August 14, 2012 at 2:02 pm |
    • ME II

      Ayn Rand was an atheist who had a philosophy called Objectivism, which wasn't' an atheist philosophy.

      August 14, 2012 at 5:45 pm |
    • PerceivedReality

      Granny should have planned her financial affairs better througout her life, and if she did not, her family should take care of her.

      August 15, 2012 at 12:30 pm |
  13. I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

    Yesterday's Colbert Report had some great quips on the announcement.


    SC: "So daring, I mean, white, Christian and male, that's triple non-threatening to me"

    My favorite was "Romney and Ryan, together they look like a poster for SuperCuts." but I can't remember where I saw that.

    August 14, 2012 at 1:45 pm |
  14. Shannon

    What about Nixon/Agnew? Quakers (like Nixon) don't consider themselves to be Protestant, and Agnew was raised Greek Orthodox and later converted to the Episcopalian Church, a church that dropped "Protestant" from its name starting in 1964 due to the church members' opposition to identifying themselves as Protestant.

    August 14, 2012 at 1:36 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      Anglicans not considered "Protestant"?

      You're kidding me right?

      August 14, 2012 at 1:46 pm |
    • Greg

      Quakers came from Protestant roots. Episcopalians come from the Church of England; which, Protestants like the Indians ran away from. The Church of England killed people just like Catholics for non-conformance to their religion. The Church of England got lumped in with Protestants because the both fought against Catholic Inquisitors.

      August 14, 2012 at 1:50 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV


      adherents to the Church of England considered themselves "Protestants" for centuries. I expect that most still do.

      No, they don't belong to a Lutheran or Calvinist tradition, but they adopted (coopted if you like) the term for any non-Papal Christian faith.

      is how they define themselves today:

      It resulted in a Church that consciously retained a large amount of continuity with the Church of the Patristic and Medieval periods in terms of its use of the catholic creeds, its pattern of ministry, its buildings and aspects of its liturgy, but which also embodied Protestant insights in its theology and in the overall shape of its liturgical practice. The way that this is often expressed is by saying that the Church of England is both 'catholic and reformed.'

      August 14, 2012 at 2:13 pm |
    • William Demuth

      So they protested being Protestant?

      A confused cult they are!

      August 14, 2012 at 2:30 pm |
    • Greg

      The Church of England came about because Henry the VIII wanted a divorce and the Pope declined. The King made the Church of England and made himself the Pope. He didn't the new church look like the old Catholic church. Very separate history than true Protestants. They get link together because both had to fight for their life against the Catholic Inquisition. They seem to have changed much from their original doctrine; they don't have a king for a Pope and I think they accept gay priests. I don't consider them Protestants because they don't share the same roots. Much is debatable, like how to classify a Quaker. Nixon came from a Quaker family, but left the religion. To me the issue is Big Religion. Protestant isn't a religion but a group of religions like the US is a group of states.

      August 14, 2012 at 4:24 pm |
  15. Joe from CT, not Lieberman

    Technically, any denomination that is not Roman or Orthodox Catholic qualifies as a "Protestant" Church. Therefore by extension LDS is technically Protestant. Although in the strictest sense I would say that both Romney and Ryan are more interested in worshiping Mammon than the Christian God, based on their economic theories.

    August 14, 2012 at 1:30 pm |
    • joe

      You left out The Marionite Catholic.A-

      August 14, 2012 at 1:37 pm |
    • William Demuth

      So Jews are Protestants?

      And Muslims?

      Neither of them accept the divinity of Christ (they believe he was cool, just not divine)

      Neither does the Mormon Church. By your standard they aren't even Christian at all.

      August 14, 2012 at 1:38 pm |
    • Nate

      Back in the day, the Jewish religious leaders didn't think it was cool that Jesus called Himself the Messiah and God and His followers did (and still do) the same. He was put to death as a blasphemer. So, I don't think Jews think that Jesus is cool. Everyone can like/dislike a perception of somebody, but do they like the man described in the Bible?

      August 14, 2012 at 2:07 pm |
    • ME II

      I'd bet that @Joe... meant "Technically, any denomination [that considers itself Christian] that is not Roman or Orthodox Catholic..."

      August 14, 2012 at 5:50 pm |
  16. TheVocalAtheist

    Romney is Mormon. Ryan is Catholic.

    That statement is extremely disappointing in itself but more so when faced with the possibility of them holding the POTUS position.

    August 14, 2012 at 1:26 pm |
    • joe

      Atheis don't vote for either party.So whats the difference?

      August 14, 2012 at 1:35 pm |
    • Huebert


      Generally, yes we do. We don't vote in a block like other groups, but we do vote. Most often for either the Dems or the Repubs.

      August 14, 2012 at 1:40 pm |
  17. IslandAtheist

    Atheist make up 5% of the U.S. population, where are the atheist politicians?

    August 14, 2012 at 1:17 pm |
    • rAmen

      well atheists don't really have an unified political ideology, it's like herding cats

      August 14, 2012 at 1:21 pm |
    • William Demuth

      13 percent is the most recent count

      Doubled in a generation.

      August 14, 2012 at 1:39 pm |
    • IslandAtheist

      I'm going by this recent Win Gallop international poll. http://www.wingia.com/web/files/richeditor/filemanager/Global_INDEX_of_Religiosity_and_Atheism_PR__6.pdf

      August 14, 2012 at 1:55 pm |
    • Tim in Minny

      It's actually about 13.5% of the US population that does not have a religious affiliation. Approximately 5.2% identify themselves as atheist. In addition, that 13.5% is a very fast growing segment.

      August 14, 2012 at 2:03 pm |
    • Tim in Minny

      Imagine a presidential candidate declaring himself to be an atheist? They'd get run out of town on a rail by all manner of religious zealots.

      August 14, 2012 at 2:05 pm |
    • Mass Debater

      It's only going to take another 15 years for the numbers to catch up and an atheist candidate might have a chance. That or the religious right will alienate so many people over the next few years with their idiotic religious rhetoric and try to pass more religious laws in America that it will speed up Americans conversion to agnostic if not atheist. It's only a matter of time.

      August 14, 2012 at 2:36 pm |
  18. ryan

    That is incorrect. The Obama/Biden ticket was the first ticket to be protestant free. Obama was not protestant in his rearing, nor in his worldview. He cannot articulate simple, and yet profound basic beliefs of Protestantism. His only exposure to protestantism, is sitting in Trinity United Church in Chicago. Trinity does not believe traditional protestant beliefs, and is more rightly termed as a Liberation Theology Church, than a protestant church. That is clear from the pastor's own words as he declared himself to be believe in James Cone style liberation theology. That is NOT a protestant theology. It is a theology of modern liberalism. Obama's religion is as best modern liberalism.

    August 14, 2012 at 1:13 pm |
    • rAmen

      your point being?

      August 14, 2012 at 1:24 pm |
    • wow

      The No True Scottman Fallacy would probably just be humorous and misguided debate tactic if it didn't highlight the extreme arrogance of the claimant.

      August 14, 2012 at 1:27 pm |
    • jimmer

      I just love the dimwits who claim Omaba isn't a christian.

      These are the same dunces who criticize him for attending a christian church led a Reverend Wright.

      August 14, 2012 at 1:28 pm |
    • ryan

      No. The answer is that some of us don't believe that the church run by Rev. Wright IS a Christian church. It is certainly not a church that teaches orthodox Christian beliefs in any way shape or form.

      August 14, 2012 at 1:51 pm |
  19. IslandAtheist

    Obama is most likely an atheist, just like his father was.

    August 14, 2012 at 1:08 pm |
    • Leo

      His father was Muslim.

      August 14, 2012 at 1:28 pm |
  20. rh

    If you say that Mormons are NOT Protestant, then you are saying they are a cult. There are three branches of Christianity – Catholicism, Orthodoxy, and Protestantism. You can't just make believe there is a fourth, again unless you call Mormonism a cult.

    August 14, 2012 at 1:05 pm |
    • religion; a way to control the weak minded

      news flash....most religions are cults

      August 14, 2012 at 1:11 pm |
    • rich

      Illogical reasoning. If something is not an orange or apple, that does not mean that it is not a fruit.

      August 14, 2012 at 1:15 pm |
    • jimmer

      They are all cults.

      August 14, 2012 at 1:28 pm |
    • joe

      Mormans are a strange sect, or a curious cult.

      August 14, 2012 at 1:33 pm |
    • ryan

      Mormonism is a cult by just about any definition. I don't think this precludes a person, even a Christian from voting for Romney, however. I can say both Mormonism is a cult, and I plan on voting for Romney in Nov.

      August 14, 2012 at 1:49 pm |
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