Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Jon Huntsman Jr. Formally Announces His Republican Presidential Candidacy, And The Media Immediately Put His Mormonism Under Scrutiny

No sooner did former one-and-a-half term Utah Governor Jon Huntsman Jr. announce his formal entrance into the Republican presidential race than a host of mainstream media outlets began dissecting his religion and its possible effects upon the 2012 campaign. None of the analysis appears to be abusive or derogatory. You can read the transcript of Huntsman's announcement HERE. AP story embedded below:

Prompting the continuing media interest in the Mormonism of Huntsman and Mitt Romney is a report on a survey released on June 2nd by the Pew Research Center, which revealed that a quarter of American adults still admit to being less likely to vote for a Mormon candidate for president. This was followed up by the report of a Gallup poll released on June 20th, which also showed that 22 percent would not vote for a Mormon presidential candidate. Interestingly enough, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), himself a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, blames this on Mitt Romney, saying “I feel very comfortable that they’re not ready for – certainly they’re not ready for the former governor of Massachusetts...Which says, in that race, if I had a choice, I’d favor Huntsman over Romney.”

In an article entitled "Understanding Jon Huntsman's distinct brand of Mormonism", KSTU Channel 13 of Salt Lake puts forth the notion that despite the fact that Huntsman's Mormon roots run deep, with his grandfather serving as an apostle, his father being a lay leader in the church, and Huntsman himself serving a mission to Taiwan, Huntsman is a bit more independent-minded than Mitt Romney. Huntsman and his wife are raising their adopted Indian daughter in her native Hindu faith, and he was quoted as saying he gets satisfaction from many different types of belief systems. But he still acknowledges formal membership in the LDS Church. Romney, in contrast, is characterized as more symbolic of Mormon retrenchment of the 1960s and 1970s, when the LDS Church defined itself largely in opposition to the broader American culture, which was seeing cultural upheaval and the sexual revolution.

CNN's Belief Blog also posted the same article, but of interest are the 400+ public comments appended to it, providing a snapshot of public reaction.

Perhaps the most intriguing analysis was put forth by the Salt Lake Tribune. In an article entitled "How Mormonism could affect foreign policy under Romney, Huntsman", the Tribune illustrates how both the corporate image of both Romney and Huntsman contrasts sharply with the populist image presented by the Prophet Joseph Smith. Where Joseph Smith was a charismatic prophet who commanded his followers to accept restored gospel principles like plural marriage and baptism of the dead, which in turn distinguished Mormonism from mainstream Christianity, Romney and Huntsman, by contrast, appear to be much more conventional and rule-bound, almost to a fault. Since both candidates appear to prefer pragmatism over politics, the possibility of their Mormonism affecting their foreign policy is minimal; both candidates have previous stated that they would not "take political orders" from the Church, so to speak.

An article by the International Business Times entitled "Jon Huntsman’s Mormon Question" also provides some useful insight. They suggest Huntsman may have to tread a fine line between over-identifying and under-identifying with his Mormonism. To avoid the first pitfall, Huntsman will campaign aggressively on the economy and jobs market, and bring up his extensive international experience. However, if he sidesteps religion completely, he may have trouble capturing the traditional Christian vote, and can probably kiss off the Evangelical vote altogether. As a matter of fact, the revelation that Huntsman is actively courting gay support will drive the religious right further away from him.

Meanwhile, two other prominent Mormon politicos, Utah Governor Gary Herbert and Utah Congressman Jason Chaffetz, diplomatically opine that Huntsman could be formidable and that he brings credibility to the table. Herbert was Huntsman's lieutenant governor, and Chaffetz, who was Huntsman's former chief of staff and 2004 campaign manager, is politically to the right of Huntsman. But Chaffetz says he still has to go with the candidate he believes has the best chance of beating President Barack Obama, and believes Romney is in better position to get 'er done.

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