Will Mitt Romney's 'Mormon moment' help his campaign?
When a Dallas pastor called Mr. Romney’s faith – Mormonism – a 'cult' at a recent convention of Christian conservatives, he brought into the open the role of religion in the primaries.
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When the Dallas pastor called Mr. Romney’s faith – Mormonism – a “cult” at a recent convention of Christian conservatives, he brought into the open a simmering issue: whether a leading Republican presidential candidate should be judged over religious beliefs some Americans see as outside the mainstream.
Romney’s “Mormon moment” was bound to happen sooner or later in this campaign. Four years ago, during his first presidential campaign, it happened when the chatter over Mormonism got loud enough that the former Massachusetts governor saw fit to deliver a major speech on faith. Most memorably, it was presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, an ordained Southern Baptist minister, who made headlines by wondering out loud if Mormons believe Jesus and the devil are brothers. He later apologized to Romney, but the damage may already have been done.
This time, polls show continuing public reservations about electing a Mormon president – especially among white Evangelicals, an important part of the Republican base. In June, a Pew Research Center poll showed 34 percent of white Evangelicals are “less likely” to support a Mormon for president; 25 percent of the overall population feels that way. Those numbers are little changed from 2007.
So, with Romney standing an excellent chance at winning the GOP nomination, the question was not if, but when he would have to address his faith.
If nothing else, the clumsiness of the comments by Mr. Jeffress, senior pastor at a Southern Baptist megachurch in Dallas, made Romney an object of sympathy and put Texas Gov. Rick Perry, whom Jeffress endorsed, on the spot. Governor Perry’s campaign has said the governor does not view Mormonism as a cult, but he has yet to disavow Jeffress. On Oct. 11, Romney called on Perry to repudiate the pastor’s comments.
“I think it ends up in some small way helping Romney,” says the Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. “People don’t want to be associated with an attack on someone’s religion like this.”
But even if Romney doesn’t gain from the episode, it’s still early enough in the presidential cycle that the Romney campaign has time to contain any negative fallout from the attention to his faith, should it come.