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. citizen bob

    Happy Sunday all

    September 2, 2012 at 9:59 am |
    • Richard Dawkens

      Praise Jebus!

      September 2, 2012 at 10:32 am |
  2. sean

    Mormonism is a cult. Read about Joseph Smith (who claimed to be a prophet) and how he wrote the book of Mormon and see if you don't agree that Mormonism is a cult and that religious leaders should be warning people about following the teachings of a false prophet.

    September 2, 2012 at 9:59 am |
  3. Eagle Eye

    Let me tell everyone something when former President John F. Kennedy ran for President there was big stink about him being Irish and a Roman Catholic. One day he was asked the question about his religion he answered the reporters question and said that he would not answer any questions about his religion. From that day on questiion were asked.

    What I don't under stand is why everyone has their crotch in a bounch because Mitt Romney is a Morman. He practices his religion just like everyone else so it's time to get off the regigious thing that has everyone's crotch in a bounch.

    I will bet that people who practice their own religion don't like someone telling them what religion they should follow. People who think they know what's good for someone don't know what good for them selves. People like to be told what to do by people who think they are smarter then them. It's time for everyone to be their own free thinker. When you practice your own religion and tell people who think you should be practicing their religion you just tell it maybe good for you but not for me. I don't need someone to tell me how to think.

    This goes the same for Mitt Romney he does what's good for him and his family. So get off this religious sh&t.

    September 2, 2012 at 9:59 am |
    • oy

      Mormonism is a cult. It is not a religion.

      September 2, 2012 at 10:01 am |
    • Richard Dawkens

      While I don't agree with any religion, you can't compare one that had been around for 1,850 or so years with one that was founded in some guys back yard a little over 100 years ago that involved distant planets and other scientology type beliefs. While catholics are open and give to their church and community, mormons are not. Mitt's big annual donation to charity? His own church. We need all religion out of the government like our founding fathers did.

      September 2, 2012 at 10:23 am |
  4. EddyL

    Romney is a FRAUD on all fronts.

    September 2, 2012 at 9:58 am |
    • One one

      Obama claims to be a faithful reborn Christian. Do you believe him ?

      September 2, 2012 at 10:02 am |
  5. MIchele

    Hey Mark...Peddle your wares where the Mormons peddle their crap- amongst the uneducated and/or primitive peoples of the world. Regular folk, even those with minimal first world education, are too smart to believe the nonsense the hateful, insular, secretive, racist, misogynist Mormons espouse. Magic rocks and underwear? Plural marriage to young children? Baptizing the dead (including Adolph HItler????)? You have GOT to be kidding. If Romney and Ryan held hands and walked on water together, there is NO way on earth I could support someone with the abysmal critical thinking skills of a Mormon.

    September 2, 2012 at 9:58 am |
    • Sam's Uncle

      Wow, don't know many Mormons do you? Most of the Mormons I know hold advanced degrees (Ph D., Master's, JD, etc.). Maybe they just haven't gotten enough education yet.

      September 2, 2012 at 10:03 am |
    • TheBob

      @Sams Uncle: these would be Mormons who were Mormon from birth. What Michelle is correctly pointing out is that you can't sell Mormon to any half-way educated non-Mormon. For the same reason you can't sell Scientology to the same people.

      September 2, 2012 at 10:11 am |
  6. newmalthus

    What you need to do is go see Obama 2016 this weekend

    September 2, 2012 at 9:58 am |
    • MIchele

      Saw it. (Know thy enemy) Typical R lies and fiction.

      September 2, 2012 at 9:59 am |
    • oy

      What you, and your fellow spammers, need to do is stop spamming about this piece of garbage movie. Please tell me how this comment is relevant to the topic at hand.

      September 2, 2012 at 10:03 am |
  7. gmenfan54

    Bringing religion into politics has never helped any presidential candidate get elected.

    September 2, 2012 at 9:55 am |
    • andros

      Sorry, my friend, but that is patently and demonstrably false.

      September 2, 2012 at 10:13 am |
  8. TheBob

    If these pictures of Romney with his new Evangelical boyfriend don't look gay, nothing does.

    September 2, 2012 at 9:53 am |
  9. InterwebzTrollUnionLeader

    How can CNN, in good conscience, feed the troll community with such a headline?? We will die from being over-fed!

    September 2, 2012 at 9:53 am |
  10. Dennis

    New cults either end up like WACO or Utah.

    September 2, 2012 at 9:53 am |
    • One one

      Not necessarily. At one point, Christianity was a new cult.

      September 2, 2012 at 9:58 am |
    • Richard Dawkens

      Christianity is still a cult. All religions are cults or social clubs out to rip folks off and control the uneducated and mindless.

      September 2, 2012 at 10:24 am |
  11. mormoncandidate dot com

    Yes, Mitt Romney is a Mormon....

    September 2, 2012 at 9:52 am |
    • oy

      And? What was the point of this comment? Nice way to advertise your website.

      September 2, 2012 at 10:04 am |
  12. chuckly

    Voting for the 'lesser of two evils' is still voting for Evil.
    That would be like demanding the P0rn NOT BE ALLOWED IN THIS HOUSE
    Then when it's time to watch tv, finding out that the only 2 programs on contain p0rn.
    So you decide to watch one with the lesser p0rn, and still feel like you made the Godly choice.
    When in fact the choice you should have made was to SHUT OFF the tv and find something else to do.

    September 2, 2012 at 9:51 am |
    • One one

      Not voting is also a choice, ...for the guy you like the least.

      September 2, 2012 at 9:56 am |
    • chuckly

      sorry, it doesn't matter how you try to rationalize it. If you are voting for the lesser, you are still voting for Evil. For a Christian to do that and try to rationalize it anyway, it is nothing but compromising your beliefs and it makes them total hypocrites.

      September 2, 2012 at 10:01 am |
    • oy

      I don't care for Mitt. In fact, I don't think he's a very nice guy and would never vote for him, however, this "good" v. "evil" thing is getting really old and serves absolutely nothing.
      President Obama is not evil, btw. Someone who wants to help the poor, veterans, women, minorities...you refer to as evil. wth.

      September 2, 2012 at 10:06 am |
    • chuckly

      I'm not saying anyone is evil, i'm talking about the hypocrites who point out that they are voting for the lesser of two evils. I myself am a christian. I do believe that Obama is the better choice but I will not be voting for either one no matter how much I feel Obama is better then Romney. I will not be the hypocrite that most Christians prove to be. A vote for either one of these candidates is noting but compromising your faith PERIOD. While most Christians have no problem being a 'hypocrite' for Jesus. I will not play that game. God said to be 'Hot or Cold. Not luke warm. Or he will spew you out of his mouth' You can't be anymore lukewarm then voting for the lesser of two evils.

      September 2, 2012 at 10:14 am |
  13. Richard Dawkens

    Nice, so a supposedly born again christian is selling the public a non-christian as a highly christian mormon? What is wrong with the American people? For a nation founded on democracy (NOT religion) we continue to lag behind in this area. If you want to believe in magical faeries go ahead, but keep it in your house. Leave it out of politics.

    September 2, 2012 at 9:47 am |
  14. One one

    The dilemma.

    ALL Religion is bull sh1t.

    Both candidates claim to have strong faith in their religion. Not good.

    One seems to be a true believer. Not good.

    The other seems to only be pretending to be a true believer. Not good.

    On the issue of religion, how does this influence your perception of each candidate ?

    September 2, 2012 at 9:46 am |
    • oy

      The difference is: Mitt wants this win specifically FOR Mormonism. President Obama's faith is his own personal faith. Mitt wants us all to be Mormons.

      September 2, 2012 at 10:08 am |
  15. H0nky

    You people think that religion doesn't matter? Well, you're correct. For you. But Romney and many others do have beliefs, and they will happily drag your as* into a nuclear war because of their beliefs.

    September 2, 2012 at 9:45 am |
    • Sam's Uncle

      Yes, since so many of our Presidents who were believers before them have dragged us into nucliear war...I mean really? Is this really the logic you are going to use?

      September 2, 2012 at 9:54 am |
  16. aweumissed

    We will see how true christians believe at the polls... I was taught from a baptist perspective that mormonism is a cult......

    September 2, 2012 at 9:44 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      No True Christian would vote for a Mormon cultist.

      Fallacy Spotter?

      September 2, 2012 at 9:47 am |
    • Richard Dawkens

      Always funny when one cult calls a different group a cult. They are both cults founded to keep naive, stupid people in line.

      September 2, 2012 at 9:48 am |
  17. Tom

    Based on the current Electoral College standings Mit here as already lost. So pushing this into the media makes no sense. Because YOU CAN’T VOTE for the presidency! ONLY the EC can vote the president into office. So who freaking cares about either one of these parties! They are poison to OUR government. If you vote for either repub or dem you are voting for the banks we all hate so much. So cheer for Mit as your foreclosure papers are singed! Yell for Obama as your refy requests are denied.

    Since your vote won’t count in this election for the president’s seat, use it as a protest vote against the banks! Don’t vote for either party they back!

    September 2, 2012 at 9:43 am |
    • edweird69

      Wow... you just posted the very same dialog that goes on in my head. I totally agree!!

      September 2, 2012 at 9:59 am |
  18. dahditdah

    A practicing Mormon embraces Joseph Smith as a 'prophet of God'. While having 47 or so wives and still finding the time and energy to seduce more is certainly super-human, it doesn't quite reach the level of divine.

    September 2, 2012 at 9:41 am |
    • Sam's Uncle

      When you find a Mormon with 47 wives, please let me know.

      September 2, 2012 at 9:59 am |
    • oy

      Perhaps an exaggeration, but not by much. Look into the FLDS.

      September 2, 2012 at 10:11 am |
  19. Nietodarwin

    That is one SCARY CREEPY picture on the top of this article. It makes me want to vomit.

    September 2, 2012 at 9:40 am |
  20. Ron

    A True Believer wouldn't have anything to do with this election. Are you really prepared to risk your eternal soul getting mixed up in corrupt and evil politics. There will be much wailing on Judgement Day. You would be better off staying home and praying.

    September 2, 2012 at 9:40 am |
    • Nietodarwin

      You would be better off pulling your head out of your @#$ and getting some education.

      September 2, 2012 at 9:53 am |
    • Ron

      Writen like a true American Christian fanatic. Murder any gay people or abortion doctors lately?

      September 2, 2012 at 10:02 am |
    • oy

      Right. Hear that, Dems? Some crazy dude on the internet just told you not to vote so you'd better heed his crazy warning! (Cause you know this was aimed at you, right?)

      September 2, 2012 at 10:12 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.