Rom­ney’s of­fi­cially in; Mor­mon faith still seen as hur­dle

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY SETH MCLAUGH­LIN

For­mer Mas­sachusetts Gov. Mitt Rom­ney on June 2 an­nounced that he will once again seek the Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion, but four years af­ter his first bid, an­a­lysts say he will once again face the same unique hur­dle: his Mor­mon re­li­gion.

This time, though, he could have com­pany from for­mer Utah Gov. Jon Hunts­man Jr., who also is a mem­ber of the Church of Je­sus Christ of Lat­ter-day Saints (LDS) and has spent the past few weeks test­ing the waters for a bid.

Mr. Rom­ney steered clear of his re­li­gion when he kicked off his cam­paign in New Hamp­shire, but that was set to change over the com­ing week­end when he and Mr. Hunts­man were to travel to Wash­ing­ton, where they were sched­uled to speak at the Faith and Free­dom Coali­tion (FFC) con­fer­ence.

Ben Crosby, an Iowa State Univer­sity pro­fes­sor who has stud­ied how Mr. Rom­ney han­dled his faith dur­ing the 2008 cam­paign, told The Wash­ing­ton Times that Mr. Rom­ney’s Mor­mon roots “ab­so­lutely” put him at odds with much of the evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tian com­mu­nity, which plays a key role in the first-in-the-nation Iowa cau­cuses and can make or break a can­di­date in the South Carolina Repub­li­can pri­mary.

“Mor­monism rep­re­sents for evan­gel­i­cal con­ser­va­tives a break­ing of a par­tic­u­lar or­der, a break­ing of tra­di­tion, a break­ing with con­ven­tion,” Mr. Crosby said, not­ing how Mr. Rom­ney sank large sums of time and money into the 2008 Iowa cau­cuses only to lose to for­mer Arkansas Gov. Mike Huck­abee, a South­ern Bap­tist preacher.

That’s prob­a­bly why Rom­ney is not putting a big in­vest­ment in Iowa this time be­cause I think he knows at the ground level that those prej­u­dices don’t change af­ter four years,” he said. “I think Rom­ney can win the nom­i­na­tion, but he will have to do it by jump­ing over ma­jor hur­dles that other peo­ple sim­ply wouldn’t have to jump over.”

Evan­gel­i­cals, fun­da­men­tal­ists and other tra­di­tional-lean­ing Chris­tians widely con­sider the LDS Church not to be a Chris­tian body — claim­ing it ei­ther de­nies or unrecognizably re­de­fines such Chris­tian doc­trines as the Trin­ity, orig­i­nal sin, the atone­ment, the con­ti­nu­ity of the church and the canon of Scrip­ture.

De­nounc­ing Mor­monism is a sta­ple of some Chris­tian TV and ra­dio net­works.

The poll re­sults and the firmly held doc­tri­nal dif­fer­ences help ex­plain why Mr. Rom­ney kicked off his 2012 bid at a farm in New Hamp­shire, where the lib­er­tar­ian-lean­ing elec­torate is more in- ter­ested in a can­di­date’s cre­den­tials as a fis­cal con­ser­va­tive than as a so­cial con­ser­va­tive.

“I would haz­ard a guess that there is no state in the coun­try where Repub­li­cans are more fixed in on the debt and deficit,” said Steve Duprey, a Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee mem­ber from New Hamp­shire.

In 2008, Mr. Rom­ney’s Mor­monism was a fre­quent topic among evan­gel­i­cals and other re­li­gious con­ser­va­tives, who pep­pered him with ques­tions about whether he shared their re­li­gious views.

He de­flected those ques­tions by de­liv­er­ing a “Faith in Amer­ica” speech that touched on re­li­gious lib­erty and tol­er­ance and on how his re­li­gion would and would not guide his pres­i­dency.

This time, his camp ap­pears to be bank­ing on the no­tion that his re­li­gion will be less ex­otic this time and that voter angst over the nation’s fis­cal health will push peo­ple to Mr. Rom­ney, who re­ceived a mas­ter’s de­gree in busi­ness ad­min­is­tra­tion from Har­vard, bal­anced bud­gets in Mas­sachusetts, and saved the 2002 Win­ter Olympics in Salt Lake City.

Mean­while, Mr. Hunts­man has said he does not ex­pect Mor­monism to be­come an is­sue but has drawn crit­i­cism for de­scrib­ing his re­li­gion as “hard to de­fine.”

Mark DeMoss, a well-con­nected fig­ure in the evan­gel­i­cal com­mu­nity and a Rom­ney sup­porter, said he thinks “the econ­omy is in such a bad place that the faith of a can­di­date I think is di­min­ished a lit­tle bit in im­por­tance” in the 2012 elec­tion.

But Mr. DeMoss also rec­og­nizes that some evan­gel­i­cals will “au­to­mat­i­cally be more com­fort­able” with a can­di­date who shares their re­li­gion, such as for­mer Min­nesota Gov. Tim Paw­lenty.

“I think that’s un­for­tu­nate, and I think it’s a su­per­fi­cial ap­proach to a very im­por­tant mat­ter — but it is a re­al­ity,” he said. “I don’t sub­scribe to that school of thought.”

Mr. DeMoss is chal­leng­ing evan­gel­i­cal friends and re­li­gious lead­ers to re­con­sider Mr. Rom­ney, urg­ing them to look past his church’s the­ol­ogy and take into ac­count who is most ca­pa­ble of win­ning the nom­i­na­tion, rais­ing the funds nec­es­sary to de­feat Pres­i­dent Obama in the gen­eral elec­tion, and gov­ern­ing as com­man­der in chief.

“My pas­tor shares all of my be­liefs in the­ol­ogy, but I don’t want him to be pres­i­dent,” he said.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

RUN­NING: For­mer Mas­sachusetts Gov. Mitt Rom­ney an­nounces his can­di­dacy for pres­i­dent June 2 at Bit­ter­sweet Farm in Stratham, N.H.

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