Mormonism and politics have merged in two Western campaigns this month, providing a glimpse of the renewed scrutiny Mitt Romney could face in a 2012 presidential run.
In the Nevada Senate race, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid faced allegations from his Republican opponent’s pastor that he is a member of a cult. Reid is a Mormon convert.
In the Idaho governor’s race, Republicans accused LDS Democrat Keith Allred of pandering to Mormons to wrest the governor’s office from incumbent C.L. “Butch” Otter. About a third of Idaho’s population is Mormon, and candidates’ success could hinge on how well they court the LDS vote.
Romney, one of the most prominent Mormon politicians, faced skepticism during his 2008 presidential run among voters who questioned if his allegiance would be to the country or to church leaders in Salt Lake City. The focus on his religion was so intense, it became dubbed Romney’s “Mormon moment.”
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This kind of scrutiny may be the gantlet Mormons must run on their continuing road to mainstream acceptance, said Richard Bushman, head of Mormon studies at Claremont Graduate College in California. After all, it took until John F. Kennedy’s election as president in 1960 before many U.S. voters embraced Roman Catholic candidates.
“Americans like their candidates to be religious, but not too religious,” said Bushman, a Utah native and a Mormon. “If you have a demanding religion, one that fills a large part of your life, that makes them uneasy. Mormonism, as everyone knows, is a demanding religion.”
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