Thursday, June 2, 2011

The "Mormon Factor" May Be Less Of A Problem For Mitt Romney In 2012 Than In 2008; Sarah Palin Might Be The Best Running Mate For Romney

In an almost anticlimatic development, Mitt Romney formally announced his entry into the Republican presidential race on June 2nd, 2011. His official campaign website is now available HERE. As expected, he immediately trained his rhetorical guns on Barack Obama, saying that he had failed America. Romney also criticized Obama for expanding the role of the federal government, saying, "we are only inches away from ceasing to be a free market economy. I will cap federal spending at 20 percent or less of the GDP and finally, finally balance the budget." He also said his number one priority on Day One of his administration will be job creation, and he will repeal Obamacare. KSL Channel 5 news video embedded below, with several reports:

Video Courtesy of

Nevertheless, some media observers still question whether or not a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints can get elected President these days, even if they appear presidential in all other respects. One reason is a Pew Research Center survey of 1,509 adults 18 years of age or older living in the continental United States taken from May 25-30, 2011, which shows that one out of four respondents would still be less likely to vote for a presidential candidate if he or she was Mormon. Further stratification by major religious groups indicates that a whopping 34 percent of white Evangelicals would be less likely to vote for a Mormon presidential candidate.

CNN Religion Editor Dan Gilgoff also questioned whether America is ready for a Mormon president based on the Pew survey results. But he acknowledges that it could be less of an issue in 2012 because Romney is better-known, his Mormonism has become "less exotic", and there's a controversial incumbent Democratic president to unite against. In addition, the economy is still tenuous, and so people suddenly think that a guy with Mitt Romney’s capacity and experience looks a lot more attractive than he did four years ago. In addition, the LDS Church seems eager for Mormonism to be less an issue in the 2012 presidential race than it was in 2008. “Recent media coverage seems to lean toward the conclusion that among many Americans, faith will be less of an issue in this election than it was in 2008,” church spokesman Michael Purdy said in a statement to CNN. “But it’s really for others to speculate on this.”

And my own speculation is that it will be less of an issue, for the following reasons:

(1). The possible entrance of another Mormon, Jon Huntsman Jr., in the race will result in less exclusive focus on Romney's Mormonism. As Evangelicals discover that Romney shares more of their social positions than Huntsman, it will cause them to take a harder and less critical look at Romney.

(2). Mike Huckabee, the strongest Evangelical candidate, will not be in the race. While many Evangelicals are friendly towards Sarah Palin, she has not "inherited" them as a group; some Evangelicals are also attracted to Michelle Bachman and Tim Pawlenty.

(3). Jonathan Falwell invited a Mormon, Glenn Beck, to deliver the commencement address at Liberty University. Beck resisted the temptation to turn it into a proxy Sacrament meeting and instead focused upon shared theological values.

(4). Some Evangelicals have proclaimed their respect for the LDS Church for getting involved on behalf of California Proposition 8. They saw that the Church took heat from the hard left and from the gay rights lobby, and it promoted a sense of being bloodied in the same political arena. Shared sacrifice, whether physical or political, can result in stronger bonds.

Consequently, despite the outcome of the Pew survey, I don't believe Romney's Mormonism will be nearly as significant as it was in 2008. In fact, if he fails to secure the nomination, it won't be attributable to his religion, but because he won't denounce RomneyCare and is unable to overcome the perception of being a flip-flopper. Already, organized Tea Party opposition to Romney is coalescing under the leadership of former U.S. Senate candidate Joe Miller, but Miller hasn't said a word about Romney's religion.

If Mitt Romney really wants to reach out to Evangelicals and bring them on board, he should consider picking a running mate who commands their allegiance and who inspires fanatical loyalty among supporters. Only one other personality fits the bill right now -- Sarah Palin. A Romney-Palin tag team could potentially deliver a powerful knockout punch to Barack Obama; a marriage of Romney's professionalism and Palin's passion could be an ideal combination. In addition, some polls indicate that where the two differ, they complement each other well. While Romney appeals to business conservatives, Palin appeals to social conservatives. And while Romney scores well with the rich, Palin scores well with the working class.

It would be an interesting tag team and a riveting campaign.

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