Frank Pignanelli & LaVarr Webb: What will the nation do with two Mormons in race for president?

Published: Sunday, Feb. 6 2011 12:00 a.m. MST

Webb: It actually takes some pressure off Romney to have another Mormon candidate. If two of the top-tier candidates for president are Mormons, then perhaps they aren't so weird after all. It's possible that Huntsman may try to distance himself somewhat from the church, but that won't help him with evangelical Christians or other conservatives. No matter what sort of Mormon he is, he's still a Mormon. Mormons themselves are going to support Romney over Huntsman. Among Mormons, Romney is still a larger-than-life figure with a commanding presence, while Huntsman was a good, popular governor but doesn't have Romney's star power. In a recent survey commissioned by the Exoro Group, Romney was favored over Huntsman 62-18 percent among very active Utah Mormons and 65-16 percent among Republicans. Big numbers for Romney. If that's the case in Utah, then it's likely even more pronounced among Mormons elsewhere in the country.

Pignanelli: Huntsman is Diet-Romney: an affluent, attractive, articulate Mormon governor — but without the heavy baggage. With two Mormons in the race, the press will once again highlight religion and politics. These LDS candidates will need to develop a sound strategy. Romney in 2008 dodged and weaved in response to questions regarding his faith. This left many Republican caucus and primary voters uncomfortable with Romney, and kept the silly religious question alive. Although anathema to the GOP, Harry Reid is the best guide to his fellow Mormons (and any religious candidate). He is proud to be a Mormon and never squirms in defense of his faith. This instills confidence with others and why there is never a question about his religion. A similar tactic by Huntsman and Romney will help to end this artificial controversy.

Republican LaVarr Webb is a political consultant and lobbyist. Previously he was policy deputy to Gov. Mike Leavitt and a Deseret News managing editor. E-mail: lwebb@exoro.com. Democrat Frank Pignanelli is Salt Lake attorney, lobbyist and political adviser. Pignanelli served 10 years in the Utah House of Representatives, six years as minority leader. His spouse, D'Arcy Dixon Pignanelli, is a state tax commissioner. E-mail: frankp@xmission.com

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