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.

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“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. Davcon

    Browsing through all the news headlines and postings at this network, it is clear that CNN has eventually joined FOX news in becoming the propaganda machine for the republican-Romney candidacy. I mean look at all the reports; they are all about what Romney say and does. Romney must be feeling really good about himself. He may as well stay home let CNN and FOX news do all his negative campaigning.

    September 2, 2012 at 11:07 am |
    • liberalsprefertyranny

      Show me a single pro-Romney sentence from CNN. Go ahead make my day.

      I can show you the easily identifiable Pro-Obama sentence in every single paragraph CNN writes.

      September 2, 2012 at 11:33 am |
  2. 1amazed2u

    Read Rollingstones 8/30/2012 magazine under politics. There you will find what Romney is trying to hid from the public

    September 2, 2012 at 11:05 am |
    • liberalsprefertyranny

      But it's too much trouble for you to post here? Instead of sharing the alleged "fact" or "facts", you just keep reposting the same 'go read this liberal rag' message over and over again?
      That seems strange.

      September 2, 2012 at 11:35 am |
  3. 1amazed2u

    Romneyhood .......... Give to the Rich take from the poor.

    September 2, 2012 at 11:05 am |
  4. Jake

    Religion has no business in government at all, none. You want religion, go to church. Anytime you mix religion and government you get a version of the Taliban. We are NOT the Middle East. Keep it out of government, period.

    September 2, 2012 at 11:04 am |
    • liberalsprefertyranny

      We understand that you think it's right to force YOUR religious beliefs/religion down everyone else's throat.
      You just admitted it, even as you condemn anyone else for doing the exact same thing.

      You are hypocrisy in action.

      September 2, 2012 at 11:13 am |
    • ccw

      I have been voting for 40 years. Back then religion was hardly ever an issue. Candidates spent their time on the issues. I don't care what you believe and you should not care what I believe...it's not important in governing our country.....

      September 2, 2012 at 11:51 am |
  5. rob

    The religious nuts in this world, especially the U.S., are getting crazier by the day. We need to rid society of this dangerous vermin. And the Mormon cult is a repulsive, immoral, disgusting, bigoted organization that spreads hate against others. And Mormon beliefs are laughable. And if they can spend tens of millions of dollars on hate campaigns, why can't they pay taxes? Why are taxpayers subsidizing government services to this pathetic, faux "religion?" The sooner this cult is brought down, the better off the country will be.

    September 2, 2012 at 11:04 am |
    • liberalsprefertyranny

      A sincere person cannot hate any organization (as you just happily admitted you do) because that organization allegedly hates.

      In doing so, the person would effectively prove that they are absolutely guilty of the very thing the allege the 'undersirable' to be guilty of.
      Are you folks really so blind? You can't hate people for being "haters", or you are what you claim to hate.

      September 2, 2012 at 11:29 am |
  6. Pentacostal Evangelical Christian

    Mormonism is BLASPHEMY and Willard M. Romney is a "high priest" in this ABOMINATION! There is NO way I will EVER support this man who not only thinks he can buy his way into Heaven but thinks HE will become a God!!!

    September 2, 2012 at 11:03 am |
    • NoTheism

      replace the word blasphemy with nonsense, and we're on the same page.

      September 2, 2012 at 11:10 am |
    • liberalsprefertyranny

      Your intentionally vote to have more innocent babies murdered, as opposed to less innocent babies murdered. So, your opinions on moral issues are without merit, in my opinion.

      However, I would be interested in your answer to this simple question, since you tried to use it as a hatchet on someone else:
      What must a person do to enter into heaven?

      September 2, 2012 at 11:17 am |
    • Pentacostal Evangelical Christian

      @liberalsprefertyranny: What are you insinuating by saying, "Your intentionally vote to have more innocent babies murdered, as opposed to less innocent babies murdered" [sic]?? If you're referring to President Obama's stance on abortion as compared to Mitt 'say-anything-to-get-power' Romney's, then Your opinions on moral issues are not only without merit, they're asinine! Do You Really think Romney will do Anything about abortion!!!! Lol!! Romney's "Pro-Choice"!!!

      September 2, 2012 at 11:30 am |
  7. tony

    The whole concept of "evil" is an invention of the religious types, who of course also invented "religion". So it's not surprising that religion end up as the cause of the all the evil in the world.

    September 2, 2012 at 11:03 am |
    • liberalsprefertyranny

      Fair enough. That is your morality.

      On what do you base your morality?

      September 2, 2012 at 11:17 am |
  8. cynthia hicks

    separation of church and state = Romney FAIL!

    September 2, 2012 at 11:02 am |
  9. Romney destroys American jobs

    For every $1M that Romney raked in at Bain, he destroyed 100~200 American jobs. His cohorts raked it in too.

    And Romney/Bain didn't retrain those that got laid off. Don't be fooled by this Mormon.

    September 2, 2012 at 11:02 am |
  10. John

    These two should get a room. Romney should have a few spare ones in one of his 19-bedroom mansions.

    September 2, 2012 at 11:01 am |
  11. VegasRage

    The guy has zero chance of succeeding in that task, Christian's considering Mormonism to be a cult.

    September 2, 2012 at 11:00 am |
    • Pentacostal Evangelical Christian

      Mormonism IS a cult. It is NOT Christianity, it is an insult to Christ and all Christians! It is Satan's church.

      September 2, 2012 at 11:06 am |
    • Keith

      Christianity is a cult just like every other religion, what is your point?

      September 2, 2012 at 11:10 am |
    • One one

      They are all cults.

      September 2, 2012 at 11:15 am |
    • VegasRage

      @Keith my point? Really? You did read the CNN article right? I'm not defending Christianity, it's pretty nutty too, but since we're talking about getting one nutty group to vote for another, that's the point.

      September 2, 2012 at 11:15 am |
    • Alley Loo Ya

      Pentacostals are a cult within a cult.

      September 2, 2012 at 12:00 pm |
  12. OregonTom

    Ron Paul 2012. Keep religion out of the White House.

    September 2, 2012 at 10:59 am |
  13. OregonTom

    Ron Paul 2012. Keep religion out of OUR government.

    September 2, 2012 at 10:59 am |
  14. FedUpSomeMore

    Glad to see that CNN got their marching orders from Axelrod. Time for the nuclear option - attack Romney's church. This is an insult to evangelicals as well as Mormons. But CNN didn't get that memo.

    September 2, 2012 at 10:59 am |
    • tony

      They don't need insults. They are as rotten as it gets on their own.

      September 2, 2012 at 11:04 am |
    • peter

      It is not an insult to christendom–i don't care who says it because it is the truth–the book of mormon is not the word of God–it is blasphemy as is the imposter christ of joeseph smith–you sir are not a christian

      September 2, 2012 at 11:04 am |
    • Bartleby, toothpick user

      Who cares what Mormons or evangelicals think? They are insane. They violate the law all the time. They don't get a free pass.

      September 2, 2012 at 11:06 am |
    • Pentacostal Evangelical Christian

      CNN is NOT an insult to this Evangelical!! But!! All Mormons, As Sure As The Hell They're Going To, Are!!!

      September 2, 2012 at 11:08 am |
    • One one

      They should do a story on Obana's "faith". He sucked up to Rev. Wright when it helped advance his career then dumped him when he became a liability.

      September 2, 2012 at 11:19 am |
    • Commenter

      Pentacostal Evangelical Christian,

      Quite a lot of Mormons have died since the religion became popular. What is your evidence that they are in 'hell'? While you're at it - what is your evidence for 'hell'?

      September 2, 2012 at 12:04 pm |
  15. BKrase

    Bishop Romney's LDS affiliation affects everything in his worldview and life. It is a pathologically opaque vision that, like his taxes, will never be revealed to the American public until it is way too late.

    September 2, 2012 at 10:56 am |
    • FedUpSomeMore

      Somehow I'd put up the life he's lead against any other example you care to offer. Did you stop taking your anti-bigotry pills recently?

      September 2, 2012 at 11:01 am |
    • tony

      Most other real people don't have personal greed (AND KNOWING THEY DON'T WANT TO EXPOSE HOW BADLY) as their highest goal. Even it means sacrificing some personal time and work on the way up.

      The older tax returns are the key to CONFIRM THE POLICY of how tax cuts created US jobs – OR NOT.

      September 2, 2012 at 11:08 am |
    • Pentacostal Evangelical Christian

      "Bishop" Romney's LDS affiliation is an affiliation with Satan.

      September 2, 2012 at 11:34 am |
  16. Mia

    I believe these are scary days for the United States. I don't believe this needs to be a battle of wits, education or religious beliefs. We the people... need to jump off of the "one way train" and realize this country is being run in to the ground. We have no stability, a govt that doesn't listen to us and Presidential candidates who lie their way to the White House . We are going to be hungry, thirsty and without jobs! It is a shame!! The "Dems & Repubs" need to get their poop in a group and quit with the school yard tactics. This isn't a popularity contest. The Presidents will always be taken care of after their terms, America, NO MATTER WHAT. It's the people who suffer and we are suffering!! People need to wake up and stop the nonsense going on in the White House. PERIOD!!!!!

    September 2, 2012 at 10:54 am |
    • Pentacostal Evangelical Christian

      the "nonsense going on in the White House" ended the day the murderous false Christian Bush left it.
      Yes, that's right! I said "Bush"! And I will keep saying it because I know that Jesus would NOT of approved of Anything this Greed-stricken killer did! Jesus was Very Clear in His teachings, and a man like him would have been considered by him to be pure Evil (And Every True Christian Knows It)!!

      September 2, 2012 at 11:17 am |
  17. nolimits3333

    Republicans have only won the popular presidential vote one time in the last 20 years.....2004.

    So the only way Republicans can win is for the Supreme Court to change the rules on campaign contributions, allowing billionaire donors to give hundreds of millions of dollars to Romney's campaign, and then have the states illegally block people's right to vote.

    September 2, 2012 at 10:54 am |
  18. Blondie

    Clearly the two are gay.

    September 2, 2012 at 10:53 am |
    • John

      What gave it away?

      September 2, 2012 at 10:55 am |
  19. TheBob

    The Mormon (LDS) church is first and foremost a business. It's a business that enjoys tax-free status. Its wealth rivals the Vatican. On the surface, the Mormon church is against alcohol, caffeinated sodas and gambling. The reality is the Mormon church is THE BIGGEST real estate owner in Las Vegas – on the Strip, not the crappy stuff, owns and operates huge wineries in California, distilleries in other states, and is one of the major share holders of both Coca Cola and Pepsi.

    September 2, 2012 at 10:53 am |
    • SayWhat?

      You are an idiot wrapped in a moron.

      September 2, 2012 at 11:20 am |
    • Pentacostal Evangelical Christian

      The Mormon (LDS) church is controlled by Satan. Any Real Christian Knows This.

      September 2, 2012 at 11:36 am |
  20. Steve

    Don't people realize Mormonism is a total quack religion, like Scientology? L. Ron Hubbard simply followed Joseph Smith's example and invented a really good story that a lot of really gullible people fell for. The main principle behind both of these bizarre organizations is $$$$$-–lots and lots of the great God Money and Power. Electing a totally devout Mormon like Mitt Romney to President of the US is no different than electing Tom Cruise---it's a really, really bad idea that will have very severe repercussions.

    September 2, 2012 at 10:52 am |
    • Major Tom

      ALL religions are quackery and charlatanism. Some have just been at it a lot longer.

      September 2, 2012 at 10:54 am |
    • Blondie

      Aren't they all quacked? Aren't they all the same nonesense?

      September 2, 2012 at 10:54 am |
    • Keith

      All religion is the same

      September 2, 2012 at 11:14 am |
    • SayWhat?

      You are a quack!

      September 2, 2012 at 11:21 am |
    • Pentacostal Evangelical Christian

      Mormonism is Not "a total quack religion", it is the work of Satan! And Satan is Not someone that Anyone should support in Any way, shape or form! Willard M. Romney wants to completely give this great nation over to evil! It is the price he agreed upon when Satan offered him not only his own planet, but to make him a "God"!!

      September 2, 2012 at 11:43 am |
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About this blog

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