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Can Mitt Romney’s evangelical ambassador seal the deal before Election Day?
Mark DeMoss and Mitt Romney at Liberty University, where Romney delivered the commencement address in May.
September 1st, 2012
10:00 PM ET

Can Mitt Romney’s evangelical ambassador seal the deal before Election Day?

By Dan Gilgoff, CNN.com Religion Editor

Tampa, Florida (CNN) – The task of selling a Mormon presidential candidate to evangelical America has fallen to a public relations man who’s not even getting paid for what may be the toughest sales job of his career.

For six years, Mark DeMoss has served as Mitt Romney’s unofficial evangelical ambassador, making the case that born-again Christians should help elect the first Mormon to the White House.

It has often been a lonely job.

During this year’s primaries, DeMoss found himself addressing audiences of evangelical leaders in which nearly everyone was rooting for another candidate: Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry – anybody but Romney.

“It would have been tough for anyone other than Mark,” says Richard Land, the public policy chief for the Southern Baptist Convention, remembering how DeMoss performed in one hostile setting last January. “The audience was stacked for Santorum and Gingrich.

“But he has a lot of street cred with evangelicals,” Land says of DeMoss. “He understands us because he’s one of us. So he did great.”

CNN Explains: What’s Mormonism?

Now that Romney has outlasted the other candidates to become the Republican nominee for president, DeMoss is using that street cred to help the candidate close the deal with evangelical voters in the weeks before Election Day.

It’s unclear whether he will succeed.

Polls show that although most evangelicals have come around to Romney, there’s a sizable chunk who have not. With those voters making up a huge part of the GOP base in swing states like Ohio, Iowa and Virginia, whether DeMoss’ gambit works could mean the difference between an Obama or a Romney White House.

For DeMoss, who is officially a senior adviser to the Romney campaign, the stakes of his work go well beyond electoral politics. He’s trying to open the American evangelical mind.

“I took this on to tackle prejudicial attitudes,” DeMoss says, explaining how he approached Romney about running for president in 2006, convinced that the then-Massachusetts governor was the most qualified man for the presidency that he’d ever seen.

How Mormonism shaped Mitt Romney

“I discussed it with Romney the first time we met,” he continues, sitting in his room at the elegant Vinoy Resort and Golf Club in St. Petersburg, his home during the convention. “It bothered me that some evangelicals said they couldn’t support a Mormon for president. As a public relations guy, I wanted to change that mindset.”

Which is why DeMoss was in front of the North Carolina delegation at the convention Monday morning, arguing that it’s unfair for some Republicans to insist on a presidential nominee with whom they agree about everything.

“My advice to those folks is perhaps you should run yourself the next time,” DeMoss told the evangelical-heavy delegation in a Hilton Hotel ballroom, still abuzz about a powerhouse speech that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie had delivered a few minutes earlier.

“My wife and I have been married for 24 years,” DeMoss said, “and I don’t agree with her on everything.”

Looking professorial in tortoiseshell glasses, a blue blazer and a white polo shirt tucked into khakis, DeMoss never mentioned religion or Romney’s Mormonism.

But you could tell it was a big part of what he was talking about.

It’s why he told the delegation that he has prayed with Mitt Romney and shared scripture with him and has even sought parenting advice from Romney and his wife, Ann.

After years of traveling and visiting with the Romney, DeMoss told the crowd, “I trust his values - for I’m fully convinced they mirror my own.”

It might not sound like much, but an evangelical Christian vouching for a Mormon’s values in front of ballroom full of fellow believers can be a powerful thing.

At least that’s the hope.

Lessons from the Moral Majority

DeMoss developed an appreciation for Mormons from a somewhat unlikely source: the evangelical giant Jerry Falwell.

He enrolled at Liberty University, Falwell’s school, in 1980, the year after his father died of a heart attack. Falwell, a fundamentalist preacher, would become like a second father.

DeMoss’s dad had been friends with Falwell – DeMoss says it’s unclear if the insurance marketing company his father founded, National Liberty Corp., helped give Liberty University its name – and Mark found work in Falwell’s office after graduation.

By the time he was 23, DeMoss was serving as Falwell’s chief of staff and spokesman, helping his boss run a growing evangelical empire that included the Lynchburg, Virginia, university and a new organization Falwell had helped found: the Moral Majority.

The organization aimed to bring evangelicals back into the political fold, after millions of them had spent decades sitting out elections, convinced that politics were a dirty, ungodly business.

“We traveled the country, challenging pastors to get involved. He outworked staff  that were half his age” DeMoss says of Falwell, who died at 73 in 2007.

Mark DeMoss with Jerry Falwell at 1992 Republican Convention in San Diego, California.

Falwell taught him how political organizing works, from the grassroots to the very top. He took him to meetings with President Ronald Reagan, whom the Moral Majority had helped elect, and President George H.W. Bush.

Among the most important lessons Falwell taught, DeMoss says, is that politics is the art of the possible.

“You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who was more politically conservative than Falwell, but he became increasingly pragmatic,” DeMoss says, eating blueberries from a plastic cup in his hotel room. “He was more practical and open-minded than a lot of people saw.”

As he waged crusades against abortion and for prayer in schools, Falwell proudly linked arms with non-evangelicals. While others in the burgeoning Christian Right wanted to organize only among their own flocks, the Moral Majority chief pushed an idea called co-belligerency: people of different religious backgrounds setting aside theological differences to pursue common political goals.

CNN’s Belief Blog: The faith angles behind the biggest stories

“A lot of people forget this or didn’t know it to begin with, but the Moral Majority was a coalition of evangelicals, Catholics, Jews and Mormons,” DeMoss says. “It was not an evangelical organization.”

Mormons consider themselves to be Christians, but some evangelicals and other traditional Christians disagree. While Mormons treat the Bible as Scripture, they also consider the Book of Mormon to be a holy book

There are other big differences between Mormonism and traditional Christianity, including the Mormon belief that the modern prophets of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints can receive revelations from God. Traditional Christians believe that the period for such revelations is over.

But Falwell’s insistence on coalition building with Mormons and others stuck with DeMoss long after he left the Lynchburg in 1991 to start his own Christian PR firm in Atlanta.

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The firm, called the DeMoss Group, took Falwell as its first client and quickly added business from big Christian groups like Chuck Colson’s Prison Ministries, Franklin Graham’s Samaritan’s Purse and Christian Crusade for Christ.

More than 20 years later, those groups are still with DeMoss.

“What makes Mark different than a lot other guys in this business is that he’s independently wealthy,” says Graham, who notes that DeMoss’ wife, April, is also from a family that started an insurance company.

“I find him to shoot straight because he’s not trying to keep my business,” Graham says. “I think he’s more concerned with trying to be honest. He will bill you and then at the same time he’ll make a big contribution back to you.”

Mark DeMoss with the Rev. Franklin Graham, a client since 1991.

Though DeMoss has kept his work for Romney, which is unpaid, separate from the DeMoss Group, the relationships he built over decades through his PR work are key to selling Romney to evangelical leaders.

Graham had never met Romney before DeMoss arranged for 15 conservative Christian leaders to visit Romney’s Massachusetts home in 2007, when he was preparing to make his first run for president.

As the leaders took turns introducing themselves, many volunteered that they had traveled to Romney’s home mostly because DeMoss had asked them.

By the end of the meeting, Romney had made some new friends.

“Sometimes on TV someone can appear one way but when you meet them face to face you see the personal side of him,” says Graham, recalling the meeting. “After I met Governor Romney I liked him very much and even more l liked his wife and his marriage and his commitment to family.”

As for theological issues that interested some of the evangelicals, Graham says Romney “answered those questions extremely well.”

Since then, DeMoss has helped evangelical leaders not only become more comfortable with the idea of a Mormon in the White House but also with Romney’s evolving position on issues like gay marriage and abortion.

“He’s absolutely trusted as a pro-life person,” Land says of DeMoss. “When he says Governor Romney is pro-life, that means something. That helps.”

Land is among the many evangelical leaders who use DeMoss to relay concerns or advice to the governor.

“Mark’s a trusted negotiator,” says Land, who had dinner with Romney and DeMoss last year.

Though Romney’s 2008 campaign was unsuccessful, DeMoss counted it as a victory that no major evangelical figure came out against him over his faith, even if few publicly endorsed his campaign.

Four years later, there still aren’t many prominent evangelicals who’ve come out publicly for Romney.

And there are questions about where Romney stands with rank-and-file evangelicals. A recent Pew poll found that, while most white evangelicals support Romney, a quarter are uncomfortable with his religion. Just one in five in that group are strongly pro-Romney.

Ten weeks before Election Day, it’s not where a Republican nominee wants a key part of his base to be.

Visiting Salt Lake

DeMoss’ case for why evangelicals can enthusiastically support a Mormon candidate echo Falwell’s arguments about why evangelicals and Mormons should be political allies.

It goes like this: If evangelicals are OK with seeing a Mormon doctor or flying with a Mormon pilot, DeMoss reasons, shouldn’t they be OK with a Mormon president? We’re electing a commander-in-chief, not a pastor-in-chief, right?

Plus, fixing the national economy – the No.1 issue in this election – doesn’t really have anything to do with religion.

In fact, DeMoss was drawn to Romney because of the candidate’s unusual breadth of experience as a businessman, governor and Olympics Committee chief with dual degrees from Harvard.

“On a personal level and a spiritual level, I might care a great deal about what somebody believes doctrinally,” he tells NPR during a phone interview from his room at the Vinroy. “In the case of presidential election, I don’t care.”

After hanging up, DeMoss stays on that point: “I hope I’ve shifted a conversation about the religion of a candidate to one about the values of a candidate.”

DeMoss says that voting on the basis of a candidate’s faith is dangerous and inane. He notes that three of the most successful politicians from his own denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, are all Democrats whom many evangelical loathe: Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Al Gore.

Since January, DeMoss has spent about half his time making such arguments, stressing to clients that the work is not official firm business. Still, he suspects that some potential clients have skipped signing up with the DeMoss Group because its founder and president is pushing a Mormon candidate.

April, his wife, who’s checking her iPhone on the bed of DeMoss’ hotel room, says they’ve lost a few friends over Romney, too. But they’ve also made new Mormons friends, and have developed a deep appreciation for the Mormon faith.

On the van to the hotel to address the North Carolina delegation, Mark and April trade stories with their Mormon driver, a convention staffer, about their respective visits to Salt Lake City, where the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is headquartered.

Later, DeMoss talks about being turned off by the evangelical street preachers he’d seen on the street corners there, preaching to Mormons in town for the church’s annual general assembly. How could such evangelizers hope to convert anybody in the 30 or so seconds it takes to wait for the light to change?

For DeMoss, the episode represents a civility deficit when it comes to the evangelical treatment of Mormons. He sees his work with Romney partly as a corrective.

Whether DeMoss can help soften the evangelical line toward Mormons is an open question. So is whether he can get enough of his brethren to go a giant step further and vote for a Mormon for president.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: 2012 Election • Christianity • Mitt Romney • Mormonism • Politics

soundoff (1,426 Responses)
  1. Doug

    I'm not as concerned about him being a Morman as I am with his taxes, or lack of taxes.. This man is anti-American and won't pay his share and he wants his rich friends to have a free ride as well off my back.. No on Robme !

    September 2, 2012 at 6:27 am |
    • Mormon is a cult

      RomneyCare works! Obama is just 50X more efficient than Romney! 🙂

      September 2, 2012 at 7:00 am |
    • Mormon is a cult

      No GOP could name ONE company with a positive job growth under Bain+Romney. Bain doesn't count.

      September 2, 2012 at 7:01 am |
    • Rachel

      You SHOULD be concerned!! Mormons look out ONLY for themselves. Do you actually want this type of businessman to oversee all American citizens? He's nothing but a businessman who knows how to recruit big $$s, and nothing more.

      We need a leader FOR OUR PEOPLE. Romney will not cut it. Not even close. In fact, it's a dang scary thought to even think about it!

      September 2, 2012 at 8:04 am |
    • Sam's Uncle

      Yes, Mormons only look out for themselves. That's why we send 19-22 year old young men and women all over the world to tell others about the gospel of Jesus Christ as we understand it. They do this of their own volition and pay for it themselves. Mormons serve others regardless of their faith. They have a "Bishop's Storehouse" where anyone regardless of faith can go to get material assistance such as food if they need it. The Church has provided over a billion dollars of aid to the impoverished and those who have been affected by natural disasters since the late 1980's (when they started keeping track) regardless of religion, race, or creed. My goodness...sometimes I think people are so paranoid. Do some of you actually believe all we do is sit around and try to come up with conspiracies? Realy, I have way to many other things to do in my life such as take care of my wife and three kids. I'm an attorney, but I currently work at at university. I try to do good for other people. Most of you wouldn't even know I was Mormon unless I told you. Seriously, get to know someone who is Mormon before you judge them. Sometimes, they may be guarded around you at first. With all the crap people say about us, is it really any wonder why? Eventually, I think you will find we're pretty kind people who simply want to have an influence for good.

      September 2, 2012 at 9:49 am |
    • college_student

      Sam's Uncle I know Mormons and like them, but I also know for a fact when a neighbors pregnant 16 year old daughter, blue eyed and blond, talked to a Mormon representative from a Mormon adoption organization, they were very happy to talk to her about placing the child with a white family. When he found out the child was biracial the tune changed and he said they had "some" Black families they could but the child with. When they expressed shock he said about this biracial baby, "well you want her to be with her own kind don't you?" Her own kind is black not white since she is bi-racial? Racist !

      September 2, 2012 at 2:32 pm |
    • college_student

      Sam's Uncle could you please answer me this: Some of our Mormon neighbors, this was about 25 years ago, had underground stocked shelters in their backyards. We were told that these were if anything went wrong, such as a nuclear war and they could hold up there. But it was kept secret because it was only available for members of their church everyone else would be kept out. Is this so? Generous to your own but everyone need fend for themselves?

      September 2, 2012 at 2:51 pm |
    • Mormons are not a cult

      how do you really know he didnt pay his taxes, because some anti mormon told you. grow up and do your own research.i would love it if the media was honest but it is not. CNN is bias and has been. DO i know he paid his taxes no i dont, do i trust the media for facts no i dont. how do you know Obama is a real citizen? you dont, there is no fackcheck for that one. and grow up and troll off this page. For years people have been teaching there kids about mormons are the devil, a cult, if you take one real look and go to one service you will find that all the mumbo jumbo you have been taught by anti christian, and so called christian beliefs is wrong.
      anyone bashing on any religions, race, or anything they think is wrong should pack up and leave this country. America stands for good, honest, freedom of religion. thats why people moved here. and most people bash on blacks, asians.
      we need to stick together and build this country back. one land one freedom. GROW up and hug your neighbor you chickens.
      cant grow up yet and bully gays, mormons, blacks. anyone calling them selves christian and bashing ones religion. well leave if you dont like freedom of religion, leave if you dont like your neighbor. leave this country to people that care for each other when needed. so what if people want to believe in god, or get married as a gay couple. Obama wants to seperate us not join us. bully all you want we will serve you and take care of you even when your old. dont bite the hand that will feed you.

      September 4, 2012 at 1:03 pm |
  2. AvdBerg

    Mitt Romney’s faith does not stand in the teachings of Christ and the Word of God but rather an image of a false god and a false Christ (Matthew 24:24; 2 Cor. 11:13-15).

    For a better understanding of the history of the Mormon Church and what spirit Mitt Romney serves (Luke 9:55) we invite you to read the article ‘Mormon Church – Cult and Spiritual Harlot’ listed on our website http://www.aworlddeceived.ca

    All of the other pages and articles listed on our website explain how and by whom this whole world has been deceived as confirmed in Revelation 12:9.

    September 2, 2012 at 6:25 am |
    • Mormon is a cult

      Sorry, Mormon is a cult. BTW, there is nothing wrong with being a cult or practicing polygamy, as long as they don't harm others.

      September 2, 2012 at 6:46 am |
    • Mormons are not a cult

      For years people have been teaching there kids about mormons are the devil, a cult, if you take one real look and go to one service you will find that all the mumbo jumbo you have been taught by anti christian, and so called christian beliefs is wrong.
      anyone bashing on any religions, race, or anything they think is wrong should pack up and leave this country. America stands for good, honest, freedom of religion. thats why people moved here. and most people bash on blacks, asians.
      we need to stick together and build this country back. one land one freedom. GROW up and hug your neighbor you chickens.
      cant grow up yet and bully gays, mormons, blacks. anyone calling them selves christian and bashing ones religion. well leave if you dont like freedom of religion, leave if you dont like your neighbor. leave this country to people that care for each other when needed. so what if people want to believe in god, or get married as a gay couple. Obama wants to seperate us not join us. bully all you want we will serve you and take care of you even when your old. dont bite the hand that will feed you.

      September 4, 2012 at 12:57 pm |
  3. American Youth

    Thanks to ScottCA for the great videos. I am more and more beginning to believe that the religious do not have a choice. I think, contrary to popular atheist view points, that we atheists need to be more patient with religious people. We are the lucky ones, we got the smart genes. It is not their fault,. Perhaps, with time, we can, at the very least, convince them to let us in. In time, through marriage and friends and everything else that is normal, and honesty, we will move our socient forward. Or not.

    September 2, 2012 at 2:36 am |
    • ScottCA

      You are welcome. The process of being freed from years of religious abuse and trauma throughout childhood is a difficult path, as we have seen in those videos. But remember some of the men who flew planes into buildings on 9/11 in the name of god were educated men, one was even a neuro-scientist. It most definitely will take time to dent this ignorance, with over 40% of Americans being ignorant of the very corner stones of logic and reason that are science. We have to push back. Other nations have shown that a greater proportion of the general population can be freed and can comprehend reason. I do not subscribe to the condescending belief that there are some truths for the intelligent intellectuals and other truths for the average person, as if they cannot be expected to understand the same as us.

      September 2, 2012 at 2:54 am |
  4. HeavenSent

    @ScottCA

    Scotty you spend so much time on these blogs delivering Satan's truth, which is a lie, through his minions of liars. It finally happened, all my toes are now the same color. Why can't you shake hands with Jesus and tell him how much you love him?

    Amen.

    September 2, 2012 at 2:05 am |
    • ScottCA

      Satan like Hades is just another imaginary myth. Just as it is insanity to believe in the 6ft tall green monster in my closet without evidence that it exists, so is it insanity to believe in god, or satan, without evidence. I am spreading reason, logic, and sanity.

      September 2, 2012 at 3:03 am |
  5. ScottCA

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iQJrud71gL8&w=640&h=360]

    September 2, 2012 at 1:59 am |
  6. ScottCA

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SbXJC6KsYWs&w=640&h=360]

    September 2, 2012 at 1:55 am |
  7. ScottCA

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=70SYwkoH_yc&w=640&h=360]

    September 2, 2012 at 1:35 am |
  8. ScottCA

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hnTbkgcFi7k&w=640&h=360]

    September 2, 2012 at 1:25 am |
  9. ScottCA

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

    September 2, 2012 at 1:14 am |
  10. ScottCA

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hf5q6VFn17o&w=640&h=360]

    September 2, 2012 at 1:13 am |
  11. ScottCA

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=12rP8ybp13s&w=640&h=360]

    September 2, 2012 at 1:11 am |
  12. ScottCA

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=12rP8ybp13s&w=640&h=360]

    September 2, 2012 at 1:08 am |
  13. IslandAtheist

    Joseph Smith was a known con man, don't Christians care about that?

    September 2, 2012 at 12:14 am |
    • Father Benedict says it's the victim's fault

      Why would they start now. Jeebus never existed. The whole thing is a con.
      The church Father's admitted they were liars.

      http://www.jesusneverexisted.com/lying.htm

      September 2, 2012 at 12:23 am |
    • Mormons are not a cult

      Are you kidding me, did you grow up back in 1800's, tell me how do you get your knowledge? is it from the internet? cause what ever is on the internet must be true. how do you really know he didnt pay his taxes, because some anti mormon told you. grow up and do your own research.i would love it if the media was honest but it is not. CNN is bias and has been. DO i know he paid his taxes no i dont, do i trust the media for facts no i dont. how do you know Obama is a real citizen? you dont, there is no fackcheck for that one. and grow up and troll off this page. For years people have been teaching there kids about mormons are the devil, a cult, if you take one real look and go to one service you will find that all the mumbo jumbo you have been taught by anti christian, and so called christian beliefs is wrong.
      anyone bashing on any religions, race, or anything they think is wrong should pack up and leave this country. America stands for good, honest, freedom of religion. thats why people moved here. and most people bash on blacks, asians.
      we need to stick together and build this country back. one land one freedom. GROW up and hug your neighbor you chickens.
      cant grow up yet and bully gays, mormons, blacks. anyone calling them selves christian and bashing ones religion. well leave if you dont like freedom of religion, leave if you dont like your neighbor. leave this country to people that care for each other when needed. so what if people want to believe in god, or get married as a gay couple. Obama wants to seperate us not join us. bully all you want we will serve you and take care of you even when your old. dont bite the hand that will feed you.

      September 4, 2012 at 1:07 pm |
  14. Denise

    That such a religious figure is so intimately involved in politics and a political campaign shows yet again the typical hypocrisy of religious con artists.

    "Born again" is too funny a term. Bad enough for humanity that such folk were born even once.

    September 2, 2012 at 12:00 am |
  15. Paul

    http://derengowski.wordpress.com/2012/09/01/romneys-mormonism-is-still-in-the-closet/

    September 1, 2012 at 11:15 pm |
  16. collectivedementia

    Give it up,Willard. The immigrants don't like you,the African-Americans don't like you,women REALLY don't like you.Come back in 2016 and try again against Hillary.Maybe by then the country will be truly broke and desperate.

    September 1, 2012 at 11:09 pm |
  17. Abdullo

    No wonder why Romney looks so happy!

    September 1, 2012 at 10:54 pm |
  18. ScottCA

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DTi8dq4KAeE&w=640&h=360]

    September 1, 2012 at 10:27 pm |
    • ScottCA

      We desperately need more atheist politicians, ones that understand how to use logic and reason to determine objects and predict events withing the natural world.

      September 1, 2012 at 11:18 pm |
  19. Agnostic Atheism is Healthy for Kids and Grown-Ups Too!

    It's really best for all people including children to have an agnostic approach to god, and an atheistic approach to all religion. It keeps things simple for kids, and let's them be all that they can be. They just need to be taught that some things, like all religion, are just made up by salesmen and politicians from long ago; and that other things, like god, we really don't know a damn thing about.

    Atheists have strong minds, and don't run and hide their misdeeds within their religion (and by doing so, disserving society).

    So instead of praying to make-believe people, get a good cup of tea and go on and sit down and collect your damn thoughts. My goodness.

    mama kindless

    September 1, 2012 at 10:11 pm |
  20. ScottCA

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-uioxhkcnhc&w=640&h=360]
    An interesting discussion regarding the separation of church and state.

    September 1, 2012 at 10:10 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.