In the GOP presidential nomination contest, the long standing front-runner, Mitt Romney, has never managed to really break out of the low to mid twenties in national polls, and now faces considerable competition for the nomination from a surging Newt Gingrich. One problem for him is that he is a Mormon (of the normal LDS variety), and the question that gets asked is to what extent is this having an affect on his candidacy?
Polls show 22% of Americans would not vote for a generic Mormon president. So it has significance, even though I think it is overstated in the sense that if it is a Romney vs Obama race and not the generic question the Republican base will largely vote for him regardless because they dislike Obama more than they dislike Romney's Mormonism.
On the campaign trail, that Romney is a Mormon is pretty subdued. Most people are aware of it, so this fact is baked into his poll numbers, but it isn't particularly prominent either and isn't usually mentioned as an attack by other candidates in debates or other major appearances. Largely this is because of difficulties in overtly attacking his Mormonism (or other minorities) without appearing bigoted by the other candidates.
It is often assumed that the principle way this is problematic for Romney is because some people dislike Mormons, therefore they don't like Romney and won't vote for him. But another important way it is problematic is that it takes away from Romney an important tool to be able to attract votes. Namely, he can't play the religion card to acquire support the way the others can. He can't say the word "God" or appeal to "Christian values" with the same frequency and prominence that the other candidates do because it has the possibility to backlash and he wants to subdue discussions of his religion.
The main mechanism by which his Mormonism is a problem for Romney is thus not of the more overtly bigoted variety, but in the way that it removes an appealing avenue he might otherwise have appealed to but can't easily do. In contrast, the most overtly religious candidates in the race are Perry and Santorum, both of which frequently make loud appeals to religion (enjoy this laughable ad released by Perry). Such appeals are typically no-lose situations and so by not being able to make the as strongly, Romney loses one of the most treasured aspects of Republican identity. And this remains true for much of the 78% that say they would vote for a Mormon president. It is worth noting that since Romney is so hyper-political, willing to change his position to whatever he thinks best gets him elected, if it was available to him I am sure he would have no compunction against playing the God card very hard.
The other factor in this is that the religious organizations are very powerful at organizing in the caucus states. In the primary states, Romney can spend his enormous war chest of money (which he acquires from a wide range of vested interests) and thus get voters to his side in a primary. Donors such as interest groups are usually pretty effective at spending money and Romney has acquired far more money than anybody else. But they are less good at building the kind of organizational structures needed to drive the dedicated to the caucuses. This is where having the networks of evangelicals on your side is most effect at driving caucus voters and sometimes money simply cannot buy this.
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