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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. DreadLock

    There aren't enough of us and no one to persuade on this Blog. Get out in the streets, the churches, the schools. Get where the people are and tell them all that the Deceiver is here with his twinkling eye, expensive haircut and dental work. He has deceived many in the highest places. In November, if you do see the Mormon Abomination of Desolation standing in the holy place, take your children and your pregnant wife and flee into the hills. I recommend you take a Rock River Arms .308 and a good side arm with you. At least two side arms. One should be a sub-compact 9 mm that you can keep in a calf holster.

    September 2, 2012 at 10:34 am |
  2. lefty avenger

    DeMoss and Romney look like they're going to give each other a nice big kiss on that cover pic. How can they be against Gay Marriage when they're so well uh close..............................

    September 2, 2012 at 10:33 am |
    • Kiss

      Did you see the picture of pelosi and obama? You couldnt get a piece of paper between them, talk about making out sheesh

      September 2, 2012 at 10:40 am |
  3. Joe

    Everyones God is the "one true God"! By definition only one group of believers is right the others are WRONG. The only other logical answer is that everyones God is the SAME GOD with different "holy books" and different beliefs emphasized in the various faiths. Whatever the answer this religious firestorm HAS NO PLACE IN AMERICAN POLITICS! Why oh WHY can't people just believe what they choose to believe and MOVE ON letting the other guy believe what he choses to believe? People talk about "slippery slopes" in describing a lot of things in politics and law. I think that the day we first injected a religious litmus test for candidates we started down the MOST SLIPPERY OF ALL SLOPES!

    September 2, 2012 at 10:33 am |
  4. achepotlex

    "Admittedly, our set of absurd "beliefs" are different form their set of absurd "beliefs", but if can all get along until November 5, we can arrange some sweet tax cuts for the Overlords."

    September 2, 2012 at 10:32 am |
  5. JohnBorg

    Remember when Evangelicals use to criticize Catholics? Until they discovered that there are right-wing Catholics like Rick Santorum and Paul Ryan. The same goes for Mormonism. This is proof that Evangelicals are more concerned with political ideology than the legitimacy of their theology. Evangelicalism has always been an ideological clock to legitimate right-wing extremism. Granted, there are some people who call themselves left-wing evangelicals, but they are only evangelical in name, as they don't hold to most of the mainstream evangelicals theology. That may only be a problem of semantics, but you get the point. The divide within the American religious is no longer: Protestant vs. Other. Its right-wing religion vs. other.

    September 2, 2012 at 10:32 am |
  6. El Flaco

    I personally believe that Romney's motivation for seeking the Presidency is to fulfill the Mormon 'White Horse Prophecy’ of Joseph Smith. Romney sees himself (I speculate) as the figure in Smith's prophecy who rides the White Horse to Washington and saves America.

    That explains why Romney has no stable political beliefs. He believes he is destined to be President because God wants it – not because he wants to implement Conservative economic and social policies. He will be doing the will of God (Mormon version), and whatever he does God will bless. So politics means nothing to Romney. Issues mean nothing to Romney. Romney believes he is guided by Destiny or God or Something to greatness.

    This explains why a man who is acknowledged as brilliant stammers like a high school student who didn't read last night's homework assignment, no matter how simple the question. Romney's mind is occupied with his place in Mormon history and theology.

    And – he believes – America will then turn to Mormonism as Joseph Smith's prophecy predicted. I think Romney sees himself as the Mormon Messiah. That is why political positions mean nothing to Romney.

    I think that Romney’s inner world is very strange. I am troubled at the thought of Romney as President.

    September 2, 2012 at 10:31 am |
    • Alexander the Great

      Very well presented. Scary indeed!

      September 2, 2012 at 10:33 am |
    • achepotlex

      like

      September 2, 2012 at 11:04 am |
  7. El Flaco

    I think Romney's motivation for seeking the Presidency is to fulfill the Mormon 'White Horse Prophecy’ of Joseph Smith. Romney sees himself (I speculate) as the figure in Smith's prophecy who rides the White Horse to Washington and saves America.

    That explains why Romney has no stable political beliefs. He believes he is destined to be President because God wants it – not because he wants to implement Conservative economic and social policies. He will be doing the will of God (Mormon version), and whatever he does God will bless. So politics means nothing to Romney. Issues mean nothing to Romney. Romney believes he is guided by Destiny or God or Something to greatness.

    This explains why a man who is acknowledged as brilliant stammers like a high school student who didn't read last night's homework assignment, no matter how simple the question. Romney's mind is occupied with his place in Mormon history and theology.

    And – he believes – America will then turn to Mormonism as Joseph Smith's prophecy predicted. I think Romney sees himself as the Mormon Messiah. That is why political positions mean nothing to Romney.

    I think that Romney’s inner world is very strange. I am troubled at the thought of Romney as President.

    September 2, 2012 at 10:30 am |
  8. Glenn Weeks

    The Mormon church is organized in a hierarchical manner. It is traditional that the church layity respond to the directions of church leaders in positions of responsibility–even if the directions are inconvenient. This writer knows of an elderly Mormon couple in the Phoenix, AZ area that was directed to go to a church project in Turkey with only several days notice.

    It is inconceivable that a practicing Mormon president would not accept directions from Mormon leadership in matters of state affairs. This is a Prima Facia reason not to place a Mormon in the top position in our country. We are not a Mormon nation and Mormon values should not be mandated to those not accepting this belief structure.

    September 2, 2012 at 10:30 am |
    • AnLDSMom

      Do you not have a problem with the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, being a Mormon then? JFK didn't take instructions from the Pope and Romney won't from the LDS prophet.

      September 16, 2012 at 11:18 pm |
  9. Shayna

    Can you vote for a person who believes he'll get his own planet, become a god, and have his spirit children inhabit is own planet? Really??

    September 2, 2012 at 10:29 am |
  10. MagicPanties

    The Mormon JC ain't the same, folks.

    Their JC was born from his "sister" Mary, impregnated by a physical father god (yes, incest), and JC later went on to be a polygamist.

    September 2, 2012 at 10:29 am |
    • TheBob

      And he's from St. Louis. No joke.

      September 2, 2012 at 10:39 am |
    • AnLDSMom

      We don't believe Jesus Christ was a polygamist or that Mary was anything but a virgin when she gave birth to Him.

      September 16, 2012 at 11:20 pm |
  11. Always hungry for that...

    He may pass a law to allow polygamy

    September 2, 2012 at 10:28 am |
  12. ob@ma 2012

    People, specially many evangelicals have called President Obama the "antichrist". Now these same people is supporting a mormon to replace the black man. Mormon beliefs are absurd, and Mitt is a bishop in the mormon church. To support a mormon is apostasy!

    September 2, 2012 at 10:27 am |
  13. Engineer in Raleigh

    Republicans do what they're told. Anyone who believes that a fundie minister who barely graduated Jr. High knows more about science than people who spend their lives studying it will believe anything. They will vote for Romney, and they will like it.

    September 2, 2012 at 10:27 am |
  14. Orlyle

    Mormons, Baptists, Muslims, Evangelicals, etc., all nuts as far as I'm concerned. Believing in God is one thing. To be a radical proponent of one particular belief system is whole other spectrum which warps too many people's perception of reality.

    September 2, 2012 at 10:26 am |
    • Alexander the Great

      The most interesting thing is that Christ never sided with the political parties of his times... neither his disciples that were thrown to the Lions as an entertainment of the political leaders of the times.

      September 2, 2012 at 10:31 am |
  15. sparky

    This is not about Religion. .. .I don't care about where he went to school
    I just don't trust his politics nor business tactics... Romney is such a Tool
    ...and Ryan tells half-truths, so you see this republican ticket is a bust
    If those two get elected, it gives Congress a free ride to screwing us

    September 2, 2012 at 10:25 am |
  16. Carlos Salazar Rodezno

    No way! Mormons aren't christians by any definition. THey deny Jesus is God and make Him equal with satan. It's not prejudice, it's not tr usting somebody who is elitist and racist too!!

    September 2, 2012 at 10:25 am |
    • AnLDSMom

      If Jesus was not a God, he could not have performed the ultimate sacrifice and become our Savior. And Satan is not in any way equal to Him. This is what I and other Mormons believe.

      September 16, 2012 at 11:26 pm |
  17. Nietodarwin

    Peter Higgs, the physicist who first deduced and proposed the existence of the theoretical field now known as the Higgs boson, does not believe in God. After Leon Lederman, another nonbelieving physicist, had jokingly referred to the mysterious boson as the “God particle,” Higgs was not happy: “I wish he hadn’t done it. I have to explain to people it was a joke. I’m an atheist.”

    September 2, 2012 at 10:24 am |
  18. Happy Shiny Girl!

    He's the AntiChrist. As in Revelations.

    Although come to think about, the Books of Mormon, Qur'an, and Revelations (and many others) have one thing in common: all works of fiction written by men.

    September 2, 2012 at 10:21 am |
    • david esmay

      Exactly

      September 2, 2012 at 10:26 am |
  19. Major Tom

    The irony of the century is that if one takes an objective, unbiased look at both Romney's and Obama's records on taxes as governor and president, respectively, Obama is more Conservative than Romney:

    Romney RAISED taxes – Obama has ONLY CUT TAXES.

    September 2, 2012 at 10:20 am |
  20. flavoter

    I remember Presidential candidate Obama having a very detailed discussion of his religious beliefs after many tried to tear him down over a pastors distorted comments.

    Why has the media not had a national discussion of the LDS church as it pertains to Romney and his belief. I would like to know about their treatment of Mormon women. Because if they treat women the mothers of their children in harsh manner as second class citizens. If they treat people they love in such a manner what would Romney do to people that are not from their community? Would A Rmney presidency be an attempt to convert us all?

    Does the LDS hide their money in the Caymens with Mitts blessings?

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

      Just google "Lying for the Lord" and "The White Horse Prophecy" if you want to know more

      September 2, 2012 at 10:23 am |
    • TheBob

      The LDS church is first and foremost a business. It's a business that enjoys a tax-free status. On the surface, the LDS church is against alcohol, caffinated sodas and gambling. The reality is the LDS church is THE BIGGEST real estate owner in Las Vegas, owns and operates huge wineries and distilleries, and is one of the major share holders of both Coca Cola and Pepsi.

      September 2, 2012 at 10:27 am |
    • wlv

      Is this really serious? The media has done nothing but write, write, write, write about the Mormon church almost non-stop since Romney got serious about the presidency. On the other hand, the media did everything they could to sweep Rev. Jeremiah Wright under the proverbial carpet. "Distorted" comments? Really? Obama spent 20 years worshiping at the feet of Wright. And suddenly, Obama's surprised to find out that his pastor and spiritual mentor is a racist and racial separatist? Get real. Obama holds those same views, or he never would have spent 20 years.

      At least Romney has never run away from his religion, and is willing to take whatever lumps come. Obama left his 20-year association with his church, out of pure political expediency.

      September 2, 2012 at 10:30 am |
    • padoodle

      HELLO CNN? ARE YOU LISTENING? PLEASE HOST a very detailed discussion of Obama's religious beliefs AND Romney's. There are a lot who would like hear if Romney believes in the origins of mormon beliefs. I know I would. And I'd also like to hear about where Obama goes to Church. Nobody ever talks about that on the news. HELLO?? CNN? Do you read this?

      September 2, 2012 at 10:32 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.