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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. Upright

    Amzing how CNN will look for any type of affiliation to divert the media and its viewers! Obama had best friends who killed officers and tried to destroy public buildings, and taught hate-based material and anti-colonialism. Is CNN's reporting slanted so much that CNN is a part of our country's problem........

    September 2, 2012 at 9:15 am |
    • Weasley

      Our country's problem is due in large part to those who will believe whatever BS reinforces their personal prejudices. They hide behind the Bible, or some sensational news from a questionable source, and refuse to own their hate.

      Fortunately, CNN has resisted the temptation to report this sensational nonsense, that does nothing but encourage hate mongering.

      September 2, 2012 at 10:03 am |
  2. Mark

    Look at all the comments from the self-righteous "smart people". Everyone feels their opinion is so important. God, it just warms my heart.

    September 2, 2012 at 9:15 am |
  3. FredKelly

    It's good to see that CNN is falling in line with Axelrod's marching orders to attack Romney's faith. It's definitely a delicate matter, but this front page article is subliminal enough to shield you from accusations of overt religious bigotry. Well done.

    September 2, 2012 at 9:14 am |
    • midwest rail

      Nonsense.

      September 2, 2012 at 9:15 am |
    • Weasley

      Spoken like someone from the Romney campaign.

      September 2, 2012 at 10:51 am |
  4. TheTraveler

    What mark DeMoss doesn't realize, perhaps because he's "too close" to Romney, is that Mitt simply isn't a real likable guy. To wit, at the RNC, it was all about Mitt and Ann, trying to make a "warm and fuzzy" connection between them and the public. Sorry, but it doesn't seem to have happened.
    I think most Americans don't give a hoot about his religion, but we would like to see more substance concerning just how Mr. Romney is going to "save America". That "plan" hasn't surfaced yet.

    September 2, 2012 at 9:13 am |
    • Upright

      Well I guess if he simply preached "Hope and Change" than he would win by a land slide!

      September 2, 2012 at 9:17 am |
  5. CNNbeatsFOX

    Aaaahhh, the stench of hypocrisy. They were afraid Obama was a either a Liberal, Social-Gospel Christian, or fantasized about him a Muslim. But now they're OK with a Mormon, which is considered a non-orthodox, heretical neo-pagan religion by a majority of Christian and Biblical scholars (since Mormons don't believe in the same God as Christians, Jews, and Muslims). It is hypocrisy at its best. They HATE Obama more than they love Jesus.

    September 2, 2012 at 9:12 am |
    • Paul

      You've got it. They're willing to overlook the fact that Mormonism IS NOT Christianity. A Mormon IS NOT a Christian. Bishop Willard IS NOT a Christian.

      September 2, 2012 at 9:18 am |
  6. ben

    One day there will be a reckoning for all you people mocking religion. One day we will all be gathered before the Great King, and every soul who knew not the name of Baal will be sent into the fire for eternity.

    September 2, 2012 at 9:11 am |
    • Paul

      Bullcrap.

      September 2, 2012 at 9:12 am |
    • Who me?

      Your great king will burn us in fire.Dude ..you're sick.Now remember-one little slip up and you will burn right beside us.Enjoy living your life with that perverted logic rattling around in your head?Madness !!

      September 2, 2012 at 9:23 am |
    • Weasley

      Yes, ben, and I wonder what the Great King will think of those who judge others in His name.

      September 2, 2012 at 9:50 am |
  7. SL

    who's the bottom Mark DeMoss or Mitt Romney ???

    September 2, 2012 at 9:09 am |
    • Gsloq2

      L O L !!!! .you know?.........the first thought that came to mind when i saw the picture in the cover story was....hmmmm they make a really attractive couple !! too bad they cannot legally marry 😦

      September 2, 2012 at 9:21 am |
  8. Russ

    Obama has led, you just don't like where he's taking the country, which is a better place than where your past president G. W. Bush put us. 10% unemployment, Wall St. collapse, mortgage industry collapse, millions of home foreclosures, auto industry on the verge of collapse, two unpaid for wars, 5 trillion of added debt to pay for tax breaks and his wars. Bush left us under such a pile of crap, that it's taking years to get out from under it.

    September 2, 2012 at 9:08 am |
  9. TruthPrevails :-)

    I am a big fat bark chomping idiot. That's why I can't wait for CNN to run its usual anti-Christian Sunday morning dribble so I can get on line and show the world.

    September 2, 2012 at 9:07 am |
    • harryhaller

      Unless you are talking about Sunday morning basketball, it is "drivel" and not "dribble." And what do you expect on something called "religion.blog.com" ? At least you are right about the bark chomping.... part!

      September 2, 2012 at 10:47 am |
  10. George

    The Church of LDS is like a pyarmid scheme and its focus is on wealth creation foer its members. It chases down people who have left the church with the intensity of the old KGB because it is concerned they will spill their secrets and they do not want to lose 10% of their income. For this purpose there are many many Mormons in the FBI, they provide information about stray followers and create an environment of fear.

    September 2, 2012 at 9:06 am |
    • Nathaniel

      Where do you get these ideas? It's like some people will believe anything. They want Mormons to be crazy and demonic and they believe any idea that confirms that.

      I've been a Mormon all my life, living on the US and Europe and have never seen what you described. Have you met Mormons? Have you every attended their church meetings?

      Check our this: mormon.org

      September 2, 2012 at 9:28 am |
  11. harryhaller

    An old friend of mine is a rabidly evangelical christian. Decades ago he led bible studies in his home where he taught that Mormonism is a cult. He sent his daughters to christian schools and colleges so they would not be tainted by any liberal ideas. Now, he supports Romney. He also fudges his taxes. I guess it is a money thing, because when I asked him how he could vote for a Mormon given his previous position, he rattled off a litany of financial excuses. Yeah, it's a Money Thing.

    September 2, 2012 at 9:05 am |
  12. Sheri Lee

    Sure as long as Romney promises them world war 3. And it turns to be all nuclear they will welcome Romney in open arms. The christian right want a big war, because they want to force the second coming of Jesus Christ.

    September 2, 2012 at 9:03 am |
  13. lucky18

    Is he the guy who speaks directly to god or is it another apostle!
    Just want to keep score properly!

    September 2, 2012 at 9:02 am |
  14. SekemetKali

    Don't let these Farisies pull the wool over your eyes complaining about the romans while you keep following them like a pack of fools, We the People run this World!

    September 2, 2012 at 9:01 am |
  15. texasgoat

    I;m not a Morman, but my mother was and I still love her dearly.

    September 2, 2012 at 9:01 am |
  16. Bob

    http://www.blacklistednews.com/Rolling_Stone%3A_The_Secret_Bailout_That_Saved_Mitt_Romney/21296/0/38/38/Y/M.html

    September 2, 2012 at 9:00 am |
  17. Luis Wu

    Awww... they look cute together.

    But it really doesn't matter, Mormon or Evangelical, both are wacko religions. But then, all religions are a bit wacko.

    September 2, 2012 at 9:00 am |
  18. mariner v

    You forgot to mention the other elephant in the room that nobody talks about. The Mormon practice of Baptizing Dead Jews! Mitt Romney as a Mormon Bishop has actually participated in the practice because it is a big part of their belief system. You can't make this stuff up. Query: Mormons Baptize Dead Jews on Google. It will astound you. The amazing part of this story is that you never hear anybody talk about it. Why should they? For the same reason that Doctors ask why types of medication you take! The Mormons recently baptized the Anne Frank at her gravesite. Don't believe me, query the information on Google. We've got enough lunatics in Washington, we don't need another. If you needed another reason not to vote for Romey, you just got one.

    September 2, 2012 at 8:59 am |
  19. dantia

    If you don't care If obama is muslem then this shouldn't matter at all. I think Romney had enough people at the convention to show this is not an issue except for someone without a brain.

    September 2, 2012 at 8:58 am |
    • TruthPrevails :-)

      Like you? You just made a false claim about Obama...so the no brain thing seems to fit you!

      September 2, 2012 at 9:02 am |
    • TruthPrevails :-)

      Did I also mention what a big idiot I am?

      September 2, 2012 at 9:06 am |
    • George

      How many times do you have to be told Obama is a Christian?? How many ways do you have to have that proven. OMG you remind me of my 9th grade students! I can tell them 500 times that the Magna Carta limited the power of the King of England, I can show them what it was like when King John was forced to sign it, I can tell them about the things he did (very dramatic things), but no they don't remember. But they remember when I spilled my coffee and muttered the word 'damn'!! For years they will remember that! I really do not think Americans are as bright as they like to think they are, especially in the South. Sorry ;(

      September 2, 2012 at 9:12 am |
    • Teacherdon'treallyteach

      George, WTH? You are dumb, the worst kind of dumb. You are here just to say things to get attention. While you were here commenting and trolling the comment section, your wife was on craigslist looking for the attention you can't give her anymore. Get a life and get out of the comment section.

      September 2, 2012 at 9:33 am |
    • Fernando

      I'm probably just one of those "without a brain", but could you tell me what a "muslem" is? It must be one of those braniac things because I couldn't even Google it.

      September 2, 2012 at 9:42 am |
  20. Brett

    All of these "open minded" Evangelicals who pretend to have no problem with a Presidential Candidate's religion, sure wouldn't say that if a Candidate was an Atheist...or even worse...a Muslim.

    September 2, 2012 at 8:58 am |
    • TruthPrevails :-)

      Those same people have never read the constitution or any other article that does not pertain to their 2000 year old book. They say they don't hate due to their book saying these things are true but for rational minded people, they see it clearly to know that hate wrapped up in the buybull is still hate.

      September 2, 2012 at 9:05 am |
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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.