For now, presidential hopeful Mitt Romney can count on support from only four members of Congress who share his faith. Some others say it is too early to make a commitment to any of the candidates. And some are actively supporting Romney’s competitors.
It is widely assumed that members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will overwhelmingly support Romney, but an informal survey of Mormons in Congress shows that’s not the case.
Sixteen LDS members in Congress consist of five senators, 10 House members and one delegate. Four of them are Democrats, so it is unlikely they would endorse Romney, but of the 12 Republican LDS members, only four are actively endorsing Romney at this stage of the game.
At least two LDS lawmakers are supporting Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and the remaining six are not endorsing anyone yet.
An Associated Press-Ipsos poll released Tuesday found that nearly a quarter of Republicans nationwide are unwilling as yet to back Romney, McCain, Rudy Giuliani or Fred Thompson, who has not officially declared whether he is running for president.
White House race rankings made by National Journal, a political magazine, also show no clear front-runner. Romney, the former Massachusetts governor who also led the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, is tied for second place with Giuliani, the former New York City mayor.
But Romney does have his share of supporters in Congress, including two of Utah’s four Republican members.
GOP Sens. Bob Bennett and Orrin Hatch, both from Utah, are Romney’s cheerleaders in the Senate. Bennett serves as a Senate liaison for Romney’s campaign, along with co-chairman Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho.
Craig is not LDS, but Idaho has a large LDS population. Meanwhile, Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, who is LDS, has not endorsed anybody, according to his office.
Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., is often used as an example of a prominent LDS member who is not supporting Romney’s campaign. He is working for McCain.
Smith, in an interview, said McCain asked him four years ago to support him, back when Romney was still governor of Massachusetts, and Smith said he keeps his word.
“You will never hear me say anything bad about Mitt,” he said, but “I think my support of John McCain is principled.”
He said McCain has dedicated his life to serving this country, and “as president, he won’t need any on-the-job training.”
The religion-based questions Romney often receives from the media are fair, Smith said, but in Oregon politics he hasn’t had to answer questions on his faith.
“In Oregon, people don’t care where or if or how you pray,” Smith said.
Hatch, who ran for president himself in 2000, formally endorsed Romney in March.
On the House side, Utah’s two Republican representatives, Chris Cannon and Rob Bishop, have not come out in favor of anyone for the 2008 race yet.
“I am focused on electing Republicans to the House and retaking the majority,” Cannon said. “I’m not convinced that my endorsement of Mitt Romney or any other candidate is going to have much influence on the outcome. I am not Oprah or Rush Limbaugh. We have a number of great candidates on the Republican side, and my overriding concern about the presidential race is that I don’t have to teach my kids how to say ‘President Clinton’ again.”
Bishop joked as well, saying, “It should be a felony to discuss a presidential campaign this far from the election.”
“I’m not backing anyone,” Bishop said. “It’s just too early.”
Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., and Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, are on the list of the LDS House members supporting Romney.
But Rep. Wally Herger, R-Calif., and Rep. John Doolittle, R-Calif., have not endorsed anyone yet, according to their offices. Calls to the office of freshman Rep. Dean Heller, R-Nev., were not returned.
Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., another Mormon for McCain, comes from that presidential hopeful’s home state and has worked with the senator on immigration reform and other issues, according to his office. He has supported McCain from the beginning.
There are non-LDS members in Congress on the record as endorsing Romney: Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., and Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo., as well as 19 other House members, including former House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill.