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

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

By Dan Gilgoff, CNN.com Religion Editor

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

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

It has often been a lonely job.

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

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

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

CNN Explains: What’s Mormonism?

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

It’s unclear whether he will succeed.

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

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

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

How Mormonism shaped Mitt Romney

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At least that’s the hope.

Lessons from the Moral Majority

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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. Mohan

    Freedom of Religion, Freedom of Speech and Freedom of whatever... I like to laugh whenever i hear what America is about vs the reality we see..

    September 2, 2012 at 10:19 am |
  2. Reality

    Only for new members of this blog:

    Why the Christian Right no longer matters in presidential elections:

    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.

    +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

    September 2, 2012 at 10:18 am |
  3. citizen bob

    This article is about what I posted some days ago. Basically, the GOP is scared loco that some of their evangelical voters will not vote for Mr. Romney because they don't view Mormanism as Christian. This article points out some of the major differences between Mormanisn (like the prophet J. Smith, and their Book of Mormon) which evangelicals may take exception with, to the point of pulling their vote. When I posted that, someone tried to engage in a theological discussion about Mormanism, its a valid Christian religion etc, I don't care. The blog is about the GOP and its fear of loosing votes from the evangelical community and why it is afraid. I feel that this article vindicates my previous posts.

    September 2, 2012 at 10:16 am |
    • kendrick1

      And you people elected an Islamist. Funny, I don't see in these posts the ferocity against Islam that I see against Christianity and Mormonism. That tells us where the chickens roost!

      DNC Embracing Radical Islamists At National Convention

      http://www.breitbart.com/Big-Peace/2012/08/22/DNC-Embracing-Radical-Islamists-At-National-Conve
      ntion

      September 2, 2012 at 11:37 am |
  4. Mom

    It's an interesting article, but Dan Gilgoff blew his credibility by not having the correct names of the Christian organizations listed. It would have been easy enough to name check Prison Fellowship and Campus Crusade for Christ. When you can't get simple things like that correct, it makes me wonder what else is inaccurate, misquoted or misinterpreted. Hmm...come to think of it, I guess misinterpretation is what the article is about.

    September 2, 2012 at 10:15 am |
  5. bibleverse1

    Mormon church viewed black people as cursed until 1973 thats the 20th century and Mitt Romney was active during those years so his early life was shaped by teaching that people are inferior because of skin color. This is not an American value. This is not a value I want in a President.

    September 2, 2012 at 10:15 am |
    • Gios

      Very True

      September 2, 2012 at 10:20 am |
    • AnLDSMom

      Mitt Romney's father was a civil rights activist who marched for civil rights and supported the civil rights laws of 1964. He certainly didn't have a racist upbringing. And we had black members in our mormon congregation when I was a child in the 1970's who were well liked and accepted. The whole congregation was overjoyed when the declaration that blacks could now be ordained to the priesthood occurred.

      September 16, 2012 at 11:07 pm |
  6. Rob

    The separation of church and state... is a myth. There is no such thing. Religion is an incurable, always fatal, mental illness and it's not going away.

    September 2, 2012 at 10:14 am |
    • Eric

      Do you know what and where seperation of church and state came from? What the intent was? Why it is important?
      You should read this.
      http://www.westernjournalism.com/separation-of-church-and-state-then-and-now/

      September 2, 2012 at 10:24 am |
  7. Nope

    Can Mitt Rmoney’s (did I spell that correctly?), evangelical ambassador seal the deal before Election Day? Answer: Nope! He needs to prove he can lead this country with substantive plans and not just words. Details! Mitt, we need details!

    September 2, 2012 at 10:11 am |
    • kendrick1

      Mitt Romney’s Plan for Jobs and Economic Growth

      http://www.mittromney.com/sites/default/files/shared/BelieveInAmerica-PlanForJobsAndEconomicGro
      wth-Full.pdf

      September 2, 2012 at 10:28 am |
  8. blogoblago

    Christianity explained: "Christianity: The belief that a cosmic Jewish Zombie who was his own
    father can make you live forever if you symbolically eat his flesh and
    telepathically tell him you accept him as your master, so he can remove
    an evil force from your soul that is present in humanity because a
    rib-woman was convinced by a talking snake to eat from a magical tree.
    Otherwise you'll be tortured forever by an invisible red guy with horns."

    September 2, 2012 at 10:11 am |
    • edweird69

      LOVE THAT! Hilarious, and scarily true.

      September 2, 2012 at 10:21 am |
    • W.G.

      The Bible says not everybody is going to heaven . What if you are wrong and there is a hell ?

      September 2, 2012 at 10:25 am |
    • Shawn Irwin

      1) Pascal's Wager creates a false dichotomy: in the believer's mind, there are only two possibilities: either their god exists, or no god exists. What about all the other thousands of gods that also promise unpleasant consequences for not believing in them? What if Allah is real? Then both the Christian and the atheist burn just the same? What if Vishnu is real? Thor? Quetzalcoatl? The probability that any of these gods exist is exactly the same because the evidence for their existence is exactly the same.

      2) Pascal's Wager assumes that there is no cost to belief so one would be a fool not to believe. But think about the actual cost of believing. If the believer's god is not real, then the believer wasted his entire life, the only life he has, worshiping a lie.. Think of all the money, all the prayers, all the wasted time, all the wasted effort, all the pain, guilt, vanquish and subservience – for nothing.
      Meanwhile the atheist has spent his time enjoying life rather than beating himself up for being human. Also, the person has lied to others about it, and put them on a bad path if they have influenced them.

      3) Pascal's Wager assumes that god is stupid, cruel, and vain and rewards blind faith over honest disbelief.

      September 2, 2012 at 10:57 am |
  9. W.G.

    As a Born Again Conservative Christian voting for a Mormon is called "Selling your Soul " . This is what huckaby has
    done as well as the Pres. of the S. Baptist Assoc.. Mormons believe Jesus had a brother and that brother was satan .
    One of the pillars of Christian Faith is that Jesus is the Only begotten Son of GOD . I can´t in all honesty vote for a
    Mormon or a Catholic . I used to be a Catholic and yes they do pray to dead people and worship Mary which is
    blasphemous . Mr. Obama says he´s a Christian . Although sometimes misguided I can pray that God influences
    his policies . Indeed I believe that God does influence him , look at his desire to help the poor and the old and the
    sick . Anybody that says they´re Conservative Christians and vote for Heretics like Romney and Ryan are fooling
    themselves .

    September 2, 2012 at 10:09 am |
    • Shawn Irwin

      Excellent example of the types prejudices which religion fosters. . .

      September 2, 2012 at 10:12 am |
    • Rob

      That is SO twisted, so retarded... Hard to believe we belong to the same species...

      September 2, 2012 at 10:18 am |
    • One one

      Wow ! Huckaby not a true Christian ? If he isn't , who is ?

      Obama claims to want to help the poor just like he claims to be a reborn Christian. Do you believe him ?

      Both sides are playing the same game. They just leverage different issues to get votes.

      The question is which approach has a better chance of getting the economy back on track ? Running the country like a business or running it like a hippy commune.

      September 2, 2012 at 10:26 am |
  10. One one

    So many of these comments appear to be from people who believe in talking snakes, virgin births, and casting out demons throwing stones at people who believe in magic underwear.

    Don't they see the irony in this ?

    September 2, 2012 at 10:08 am |
    • W.G.

      So many of you Baloonhead (nothing in them but Hot Air)Atheists sound really idiotic to us who still have our souls .
      The way you talk about the Bible leads one to believe you´ve never really read the Bible . Like a little child who talks about
      how he doesn´t need to learn to read because he doersn´t know how to read . Oh sure you may have been forced to
      go to sunday school but you´ve never really studied the Bible . I´m not talking about other religions like islam and
      buddehism and others those religiona are fake . But to not have studied the Bible and or Torah and comment on them
      is the height of stupidity . Also This is something I ask atheist like you all the time . If you do not believe in God then why do
      you take the time to read articles such as this ? That is what is STUPID .

      September 2, 2012 at 10:19 am |
    • edweird69

      @WG – what a ridiculous post. Who hasn't "studied" the bible? Most people I know, have been exposed to its brainwashing since birth. Don't tell me I don't believe in your god, because I haven't read your book. That's obsurd. I know exactly what that book says. I was raised on a church pew. I'm sure it's difficult for a brainwashed zombie, to comprehend a normal thinking individual.

      September 2, 2012 at 10:25 am |
    • One one

      @wg, because we take a serious interest in all religious matters to monitor delusional lunatics who tro to push their fantasies into our laws.

      September 2, 2012 at 10:34 am |
  11. blogoblago

    eligion is just a stupid dogma like Communism or Nazism. It's been around only because people are stupid drug addicts that like their delusions. I'd say mushrooms work better.

    September 2, 2012 at 10:07 am |
    • Shawn Irwin

      If funny how so many of these folks will claim that Hitler was an atheist, or that Darwin recanted on his death bed . . . . They have no clue.

      September 2, 2012 at 10:14 am |
    • W.G.

      What is IDIOTIC are people like you who come on to religios blogs and comment . If you don´t believe in God why take
      the time to comment ?

      September 2, 2012 at 10:22 am |
    • Shawn Irwin

      @W.G. You have it backwards . . . it is the idiotic ones that can't think of anything better to use than ad hominum arguements. It says a lot about your level of education . . .

      September 2, 2012 at 11:00 am |
  12. blogoblago

    Mormonism is is a sort of religious Communism!

    September 2, 2012 at 10:06 am |
  13. andysbasura

    NO.

    September 2, 2012 at 10:05 am |
  14. Puddin

    Mormanism sounds similar to Scientology to me. When all the hyllabaluh was going on with the Cruises, it sounded to me the elders took young kids and brainwashed/scared them into believing the Scientology way or else something horrible would happen to them. I would rather see young people be allowed to think for themselves especially regarding religion and politics. What's a kid to do when they are so young and naive.

    September 2, 2012 at 10:03 am |
  15. SNAPPA

    If Romney is elected to president pope, than Salt Lake City will run the White House not Romney.

    September 2, 2012 at 10:03 am |
  16. blogoblago

    Only an atheist can be a president that can be trusted – imagine a person that has no psychotic delusions near a nuclear trigger!

    September 2, 2012 at 10:03 am |
  17. SNAPPA

    Religion has no place in our politics, it was NEVER meant to. This nation is made up of millions of different people and all views should be taken into account. All over the world we see how religion can pervert a population and destroys peoples lives. They would like to have you beleive that religion is good, just their version of it of course. Personally I find people who believe in such nonsense as having mental issues but thats me. If you want to believe in such unnatural and mythical beings thats fine but it does not belong in the public realm.

    September 2, 2012 at 10:02 am |
    • kendrick1

      Big, bad SNAPPA!

      Why don't you offal people disparage Islam?

      DNC Embracing Radical Islamists At National Convention

      http://www.breitbart.com/Big-Peace/2012/08/22/DNC-Embracing-Radical-Islamists-At-National-Conve
      ntion

      September 2, 2012 at 11:21 am |
    • kendrick1

      Big, bad SNAPPA!

      Why don't you offal people disparage Islam?

      DNC Embracing Radical Islamists At National Convention *

      http://www.breitbart.com/Big-Peace/2012/08/22/DNC-Embracing-Radical-Islamists-At-National-Conve
      ntion

      September 2, 2012 at 12:02 pm |
  18. nolimits3333

    Romney's racist church is more like it.

    September 2, 2012 at 10:01 am |
  19. blogoblago

    What happened to the seperation of church and state? Is that the reason the presidents are believers?

    September 2, 2012 at 10:00 am |
    • kendrick1

      DNC Embracing Radical Islamists At National Convention

      http://www.breitbart.com/Big-Peace/2012/08/22/DNC-Embracing-Radical-Islamists-At-National-Conve
      ntion

      September 2, 2012 at 11:18 am |
  20. al

    The problem with the Romney is he is weak, he needs a church to hold him up. At least Obama stands on his own two feet.

    September 2, 2012 at 10:00 am |
    • One one

      Obama claims his faith gives him strength.

      September 2, 2012 at 10:11 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.