Jews, Catholics view Mormons favorably; what it means for Mitt Romney

Published: Friday, Oct. 21 2011 10:57 a.m. MDT

Republican presidential candidate former Governor Mitt Romney, arrives to deliver his remarks at the Values Voter Summit in Washington, Saturday, Oct. 8, 2011.

Manuel Balce Ceneta, Associated Press

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Should Mitt Romney win the Republican presidential nomination, it is unlikely his membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will be as big an issue in the general election as it has been in the Republican primary campaign.

That's the opinion of authors and researchers David E. Campbell and Robert D. Putnam, who wrote in the Wall Street Journal that a survey they have conducted about the feelings of Americans toward different religious groups suggests that "a Mormon politician like Mitt Romney may not face an impenetrable stained-glass ceiling after all."

Campbell, an associate professor of political science at the University of Notre Dame, and Putnam, a professor of public policy at Harvard, co-authored "American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us." They explained in the Journal that although Latter-day Saints generally scored low on their survey, "Mormons aren't viewed negatively by everyone, and the religious group that gives them the highest rating of all may come as a surprise: Jews."

It is the writers' theory that "Jews' warmth toward Mormons stems from solidarity with another group that is small and subject to intolerance . . . Roughly 15 percent of both Jews and Mormons say that they hear derogatory comments 'often.'"

Jews, however, are unlikely to support a Romney candidacy because they tend to vote for Democrats every bit as much as Mormons tend to vote for Republicans, Campbell and Putnam say. But Catholics and mainline Protestants, two other groups who view Mormons warmly, are.

"We hypothesize that white Catholics and mainline Protestants are fine with Mormons because they are not bothered by the same theological issues as are evangelicals," Campbell and Putnam wrote. "Nor are these politically moderate groups troubled by the same political issues as staunchly secular American and racial minorities, who are politically liberal and disagree with Mormons' conservative political views."

According to their data, the two writers indicate that "the key question isn't whether a Mormon can be elected president, but whether a Mormon can win the GOP nomination. Should Mr. Romney clear that hurdle, the evidence suggests that the general election would not hinge on his religion."

One possible example of Campbell's and Putnam's theory could be found in Wednesday's Kansas City Star, where a business professor wrote a column defending Mormonism.

Peter Morici described himself as a Catholic who attends an Episcopal Church in Georgetown. He also is a professor at the Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland and the former chief economist at the U.S. International Trade Commission.

Morici describes the conversion story of his brother to Mormonism and his own deep study of the faith in school settings. He said Mormons believe in the same salvation story as other Christians, believe in and act with Christian charity and care for the poor.

He described Romney's efforts as a lay church leader to bless the lives of his congregations.

"Romney has visited and worked in those places where the human condition is blighted by poverty, poor personal decisions, drug abuse, deceit and worse," Morici wrote. "... he lives a faith that teaches the dignity of man, tolerance for human diversity, the power of charity to improves the lives of those that give as well as those that receive, and potential for redemption when we fail — which each of us does in some measure."

Morici said Romney's faith shouldn't keep people from voting for him.

"Mormonism has imparted on Mitt Romney an indelible imprint that makes him more fit, not less, to be president."

EMAIL: jwalker@desnews.com

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