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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.”

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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. migi

    It seems that Morons dont believe in showing their tax returns.Morons must be hiding something We dont need secretive Morons in the White House.

    September 2, 2012 at 11:18 pm |
    • hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

      America does need a hindu, denier of truth absolute enshrined in consti tution of USA as God, follower Mithriac hind's, savior ism pagan's, labeled as Christians violate foundation of America, truth absolute by dividing truth absolute in to two by their hindu Judaism filthy secularism, There are no more anti Americana than these Mithriac hindu's savior ism pagans hiding behind hinduism, absurdity called religion.

      September 2, 2012 at 11:30 pm |
  2. migi

    They can't wait to get in power and convert you all to morons.All you Evangelicals make sure you bend over and recieve it like the fools you are.

    September 2, 2012 at 11:07 pm |
  3. Eric

    At least I can appreciate how this article mentions that Mormons believe in the Bible. The writer could have also mentioned that Mormons believe that Jesus is Savior of the mankind. There are WAY too man misconceptions about Mormonism (formal name is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints).

    September 2, 2012 at 10:46 pm |
    • hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

      So was claimed by every hindu pagan Pharaoh and his hindu pagan goon priest to be Mithra, savior of humanity along with every hindu pagan Roman king and his hindu Magi, pagan fortune teller Prophet, son of blessed Mary had nothing to do with hindu Mithrasim pagan savior ism labeled Christianity or their book of Mithra ism savior ism called bible.

      September 2, 2012 at 10:56 pm |
    • G. Zeus Kreiszchte

      Shut you filthy hole pagan Almaqah, moon-god worshiping filthy pagan paki muzlim jew-hating filthy hindu-hating racist filthy mulzim turd!

      September 2, 2012 at 11:05 pm |
    • hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

      hindu's, lairs hind hurts, go to hind, hell hindu ignorant from hindered gutter called india.

      September 2, 2012 at 11:22 pm |
    • Nietodarwin

      Get an education Eric. Google "Lying for the Lord" and "The White Horse Prophecy" Here's this from "mormonism vs. christianity. Quit making IGNORANT posts.
      The Church has 4 Standard Works that are authoritative: The Bible (in so far as it is translated correctly), the Book of Mormon, Doctrine & Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price. Speeches and writings of the current president of the church are also authoritative. The Bible is far below the other standard Works because it is full of errors (wherever it disagrees with Mormon doctrine).

      September 2, 2012 at 11:23 pm |
  4. AMERICACARES

    Evangelicals need to Google Christianity vs Mormonism

    September 2, 2012 at 10:44 pm |
    • Rocinante

      Try reading mormon org

      September 2, 2012 at 10:46 pm |
    • Eric

      or lds.org

      If you want to bash Mormons, get in line. There are people everywhere willing to spread lies and misconceptions about the LDS church.

      September 2, 2012 at 10:47 pm |
    • John

      Hoq 'bout reading a Science journal instead of Harry Potter, bible, koran or any other books of mythology.

      September 2, 2012 at 11:13 pm |
    • Rocinante

      Try reading this article at lds.org news room . http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/mormon-and-modern

      September 2, 2012 at 11:54 pm |
  5. LD

    ROMNEY-RYAN, THE ANTICHRIST AND FALSE PROPHET TOGETHER AT LAST.

    September 2, 2012 at 10:44 pm |
  6. LD

    When you have a president who has sworn an oath to choose death over going against his church you can have no separation of church and state. Remember when the pope held religious power over the european monarchs?

    September 2, 2012 at 10:42 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      You presume that a politician who swears an oath will consider it binding.

      September 2, 2012 at 10:44 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      No, I don't remember it, and I don't think you or any other living person does, either. It's been centuries since the Pope wielded that sort of power, you ninny.

      September 2, 2012 at 10:45 pm |
  7. Reality

    Only for new members of this blog:

    Why the Christian Right no longer matters in presidential elections:

    And why Mitt Romney and Mr. Marriott are simply wasting their money:

    Once again, all the conservative votes in the country "ain't" going to help a "pro-life" presidential candidate, i.e Mitt Romney, in 2012 as the "Immoral Majority" rules the country and will be doing so for awhile. The "Immoral Majority" you ask?

    The fastest growing USA voting bloc: In 2008, the 70+ million "Roe vs. Wade mothers and fathers" of aborted womb-babies" whose ranks grow by two million per year i.e. 78+ million "IM" voters in 2012.

    2008 Presidential popular vote results:

    69,456,897 for pro-abortion/choice BO, 59,934,814 for "pro-life" JM.

    And the irony:

    And all because many women fail to take the Pill once a day or men fail to use a condom even though in most cases these men have them in their pockets. (maybe they should be called the "Stupid Majority"?)

    The failures of the widely used birth "control" methods i.e. the Pill and male condom have led to the large rate of abortions ( one million/yr) and S-TDs (19 million/yr) in the USA. Men and women must either recognize their responsibilities by using the Pill or condoms properly and/or use other safer birth control methods in order to reduce the epidemics of abortion and S-TDs.

    0000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000

    September 2, 2012 at 10:36 pm |
  8. Dee Wallace

    We the american people are interested in honesty before you can over-haul our taxes Romeny needs to show his tax returns .

    Religion is important but there is seperation of Chruch and State and there is a fine line when you are President of the US and shouldn't impose your religion on anyone.

    September 2, 2012 at 10:35 pm |
    • tjame

      yeah, showing your tax returns is NOT a current requirement for presidential candidates. However, being an American citizen actually is. Maybe we should all be wondering what the 20,000 muslim convention at the DNC is really all about.

      September 2, 2012 at 11:51 pm |
  9. hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

    Two gentles of hindu Jew's, self centered, seculars follower of hindu Mithra ism pagan savior ism labeled as Christians at logger head, both of them product of hinduism, racism, and anti truth absolute, God enshrined in conti tution of USA, expect nothing bertter but hinduism ignorance from both of them.

    September 2, 2012 at 10:33 pm |
    • G. Zeus Kreiszchte

      hindu hinduistic hinduism filthy judaic jewish hindu hindusim hindu gandhi hindu filthy jewish filthy hindu.....S T F U Paki Muzlim!

      September 2, 2012 at 10:38 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      @G. Zeus,

      I think you have it sussed.

      September 2, 2012 at 10:41 pm |
    • hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

      hinduism absurdity of a hindu, ignorant from hindered gutter land india, cause of mayhem among humanity is hinduism, denial of truth absolute by hindu sanatans criminal goons by their hidnu Judaism, filthy secularism. Want peace, Islam among humanity, eliminate hinduism, racism and hindu's, deniers of truth absolute from face of earth.

      September 2, 2012 at 10:50 pm |
  10. LD

    Mitt couldn't turn the economy around in Massachusetts when he was governer there. Where, since then, has he learned to turn an economy around? And where did he acquire this magical skill?

    September 2, 2012 at 10:31 pm |
    • hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

      He is a hindu Magi, criminal trickster, loaded with hindu Judasim criminal secularism, out to ply his hind, trick on people of USA.

      September 2, 2012 at 10:35 pm |
  11. Just call me Lucifer

    I invented christianity, the muslim faith, scientology and mormonism. Humans are so gullible and pathetic. I just love the mock cannibalism rituals and the mock blood-drinking rituals. The only thing wrong with this planet is the people who currently live there. Not for long...

    September 2, 2012 at 10:28 pm |
  12. martin

    All clergy are fraud con men, and tax free. It all stinks.

    September 2, 2012 at 10:26 pm |
  13. Joesnopy

    Hey this is going to great for Romney because he is already converting more souls to the Mormon faith. He is going to convert a lot more if he wins. It will still be his job to convert people. Just think about if he is able to convert people by the millions.

    September 2, 2012 at 10:26 pm |
  14. bold

    I realy don't care . But the topic at hand is morals. Don't you think that doing the right thing and honesty are results of great character?

    September 2, 2012 at 10:24 pm |
    • TheVocalAtheist

      I believe those things are innate in all of us, yes.

      September 2, 2012 at 10:27 pm |
  15. tjame

    If the evangelicals cost the Repulican party the election by not voting for their party they will get what they deserve....There are 6 supreme court justices in their mid to late 80's....the next four years could be crucial for policy in this country for years to come. I guess they just need to decide if they can live with that or not and if their "hatred" of mormons is worth it.

    September 2, 2012 at 10:23 pm |
    • migi

      I guess Morons dont like to show their tax returns.In that case we dont need a moron president!

      September 2, 2012 at 11:11 pm |
    • Get a Clue

      migi,

      That 'drop the m' in Mormon joke was old (and lame) 50 years ago. There are many ways to refute and rebut their odd beliefs, but that is not one of them.

      Shall we call you "igi" (short for ignorant)?

      September 2, 2012 at 11:18 pm |
  16. Tjstole

    Our founders said there was not to be a "religious test" to hold the office of President. The mainstream media didn't care about our current president's religious background, including his radical Marxist liberation theology church and his Islamic upbringing in Indonesia. I think it's really hypocritical to care now about Romney's church doctrines. Ask yourself this- Is it more important for the president to claim to be a Christian (and btw, they both do), or is it more important that person share your values? The Bible says "By their fruit you shall know them". President Obama claims to be a Christian yet he works against Biblical values and advocates for such things as abortion and gay marriage. Romney is pro-life (which position he came to while Governor of MA) and will defend traditional values. He also knows what to do to turn the economy around and for those nearly 25 million who are unemployed and under employed, that could be an answer to prayer!

    September 2, 2012 at 10:20 pm |
    • G. Zeus Kreiszchte

      It's a thin line between supporting abortion and killing first-born children (something Yahweh is said to have done!). Not that supporting a woman's right to choose what to do with her body is any of the government's concern or anything!

      September 2, 2012 at 10:24 pm |
  17. G. Zeus Kreiszchte

    C'mon folks! Aren't we ready for a Scientologist or a Branch Davidian or a Heaven's Gate candidate? Why not? One cult is as good as another!

    September 2, 2012 at 10:18 pm |
    • martin

      all the religions are cults, just with different tales and degrees of control

      September 2, 2012 at 10:27 pm |
    • G. Zeus Kreiszchte

      martin: my point exactly!

      September 2, 2012 at 10:29 pm |
    • John

      Tom Wolfe: "A cult is a religion that has no political power"

      September 2, 2012 at 10:33 pm |
  18. John

    LOL...So, you protestants finally see the value in separation of chruch and state? You're getting rammed up the ass by a Mormon and a Catlick and you are sucking at their teet. You know how pathetic you are?

    September 2, 2012 at 10:16 pm |
  19. LD

    ROMNEY-RYAN 2012. THE ANTICHRIST AND THE FALSE PROPHET TOGETHER AT LAST, ON THE SAME TICKET.

    September 2, 2012 at 10:09 pm |
  20. bold

    Save the world and slap some sense into You today. You sound like you have some great morals! seems to me you like to pick on christians.

    September 2, 2012 at 10:06 pm |
    • TheVocalAtheist

      Hey bold! What's your problem? Do you have something to say or add? It seems to be you're bashing non-christians.

      September 2, 2012 at 10:12 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.