March 26 (Bloomberg) — Mitt Romney has a persisting Mormon problem. Less certain is whether this is limited to the Republican primaries or it’s a general-election worry, too.
“This nomination would be in the bag if it weren’t for the Mormon factor,” says John Geer, a professor of political science at Vanderbilt University who works on the intersection of religion and politics.
The exit polls from a plethora of primaries confirm that. Romney, a deeply devout leader in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, gets clobbered among white evangelicals and those who believe the religious views of a would-be president matter a great deal. This has caused him to lose a few primaries and denied him decisive wins in others.
Sometimes this hostility is openly articulated. Last year, Robert Jeffress, an evangelical leader who is the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, called Mormonism a “cult,” and suggested Romney’s faith wouldn’t get him to heaven. It’s expressed by some rank-and-file conservatives, too. Scott Thomas, a Catholic and Rick Santorum supporter in Broomall, Pennsylvania, wondered if Romney, rather than President Barack Obama, “is the Antichrist.”
Usually this anti-Mormon bigotry is expressed more subtly, camouflaged by voicing doubts on other matters. Some pollsters say surveys don’t really capture the reservations; though they surface more in focus groups.
In political circles there is division over how religion might play in the fall campaign.