By Julia Duin
Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith was widely viewed by analysts as a chief obstacle to his 2008 run for president. (Photo by Daniel Acker/Bloomberg News)
What a difference three years makes.
In the run-up to the 2008 election, one of the big questions was whether a Mormon could be elected as president. The percentages of voters who would not vote for a Mormon had already dropped 13 percentage points from 35 percent to 22 percent from Dec. 2006 to Dec. 2007.
Still, 22 percent was a lot, especially among evangelical Protestants, who have significant theological differences with Mormons and who don’t believe Mormons are Christians. Despite sites such as Evangelicalsformitt.org, Romney never caught on with this group.
But the Mormon brand got a boost yesterday with the resignation of U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman, who seems eager to test the waters of a presidential run. This religious group is very fertile ground for a challenge to President Obama. In September, a Gallup survey showed that Mormons were the religious group the least likely to support Obama’s policies. Only 24 percent approve of the chief executive, the Salt Lake Tribune says.
This August 22, 2009 file photo shows Ambassador Jon Huntsman as he speaks to the media during a news briefing at his residence in Beijing. Huntman learned Mandarin for his Latter-day Saints mission in Taiwan. Photo: Liu Jin/ Getty Images
The general public seems to be getting more tolerant of Mormons. Eighteen months ago, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life said said Romney’s ratings rose after the 2008 election where Romney was viewed unfavorably by 44 percent of the general populace and favorably by 30 percent. By June 2009, those figures had dropped to 28 percent unfavorably vs 40 percent favorably.
If Romney thinks he’s got more traction now, he has Fox News host Glenn Beck to thank. In one swoop, Beck managed to sweep away every last vestige of evangelical resistance to Romney when he included a long list of evangelicals, conservative Catholics and conservative Jews in his “Restoring Honor” rally last summer. People like Jerry Falwell Jr. said at the time that Beck’s Mormonism is “irrelevant” to evangelicals like him.
Many evangelical insiders wondered why it took a Mormon convert to assemble 240 Christian leaders as a “Black Robe Regiment” for national revival. Beck’s prominence pointed to a dearth of evangelical leadership willing to embark on similar bold and audacious moves. Beck was at least willing to step out and lead, for which evangelicals were grateful.
Maybe all this goodwill applies to Romney as well?
And so the potential 2012 – and maybe 2016 candidate if Obama looks like he can hang on for a second term – is showing up at next weekend’s Conservative Political Action Conference. In fact, he’s not just appearing, he’s being given a prime spot at 10 a.m. Friday to speak.
Like Richard Nixon, what voters don’t like today, they might like four years from now. No doubt Romney’s hoping that’s true for him.
Will Huntman and Romney’s Mormonism be politically problematic if they decide to run for president?