|The state went to Santorum, but can Romney at least count on support from local Mormons?|
In the presidential election of 1960, John F. Kennedy was a handsome and promising young candidate poised to take the new frontier of television campaigning by storm. The only problem was, he was Catholic.
Protestant Americans worried Kennedy, who would be the nation’s first Catholic president, might listen to orders from the Pope if he managed to take office. Kennedy, however, flatly declared that his religion would not hold any sway over his presidency. He eventually gave a speech specifically to address the issue.
“I am the Democratic Party’s candidate for president who also happens to be Catholic,” Kennedy said. “I do not speak for my church on public matters, and my church does not speak for me.”
Considering the fact that Kennedy was elected despite any concerns the public had about his Catholicism, many Americans now are wondering if the same correlation can be found between Mitt Romney and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. How devoutly Mormon is Romney, and will his religion affect policy? These are questions on the mind of anyone watching the race—Baton Rouge Mormons included.
“The Church [of Latter-day Saints] endorses no candidate—it makes that clear to all members,” says David Bonham, director of the local LDS Institute of Religion. “The Church does encourage its members to vote, however.”
Bonham, along with other local Mormons, agrees that a candidate who shares one’s own religion is likely to have an attraction, but this does not mean that a Mormon will automatically vote for another Mormon.
“You have your values that would make you think someone from that religion would likely share with you,” Bonham says.
“It’s no guarantee, though.”
Kay Campbell, a Mormon in Baton Rouge, says Romney’s faith shouldn’t have an impact on how others of her faith will vote.
“You have to vote with your heart,” Campbell says. “If anything, I think [Romney’s Mormonism] will make us look at him closer to see if he maintains LDS standards.”
Bonham says most Mormons are predominantly Republican, though he knows several who are Democrats. There may be a misconception about why people assume Mormons will automatically vote for another Mormon, he suggests.
“In the Mormon faith, there is automatically a closeness,” Bonham says. “The Mormon culture is very unifying—but we don’t feel isolationist. We probably share more in common with other Christians than most people realize.”
Wayne Parent is a political science professor at LSU who believes Romney’s Mormonism is unlikely to have much of an effect on the rest of the campaign. It may benefit him in the primaries, though.
“He has the benefit of a fairly polarized electorate right now,” Parent says. “[The public] is not going to see much of an effect [of Romney’s Mormonism] except in maybe Arizona or close states like Ohio.”
Though Rick Santorum won the Republican primary in Louisiana, Parent says this was mostly a product of Romney’s lack of campaigning in the state. Also, Santorum had wider appeal to the many conservative Catholics in southern Louisiana.
“Those who might not see Romney as conservative enough are now rallying around him,” Parent says.
Candida Cutrer, a support specialist at the Institute of Religion and a local Mormon, considers herself a moderate Republican and says she will be looking to see if Romney exhibits Mormon values.
“I hope that he brings higher standards to the presidency,” Cutrer says.
As a Mormon in office, Cutrer says, Romney would have a duty to maintain a high level of honesty, frugality, self-reliance and giving. And the demands of the presidency should not keep Romney from attending church services.
Whether Romney can unseat President Obama come November, Bonham believes one of the most important things to come out of this election is the increased interest his church will receive.
“Whether you vote for [Romney] or not, the church will get publicity,” Bonham says. “People will get to know our values and ideals."
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