New York Times explores Mormon ad campaign's impact on 2012 race

Published: Friday, Nov. 18 2011 12:14 p.m. MST

Billboards in Times Square, signs on taxi tops and ads in subways feature a few of the 14 million members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with the statement "I'm a Mormon."

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The New York Times is exploring the possible impact of the LDS Church's "I'm a Mormon" campaign on the 2012 presidential election in a story published today.

The campaign, officially launched earlier this year in New York City and since implemented in 12 additional cities in the United States as well as in Brisbane, Australia, features members of the church talking about their lives and their faith. According to the Times, the campaign hopes to overcome negative stereotypes that people outside the faith have of the LDS Church by introducing them to the real-life stories of members "who defy stereotyping."

Stephen B. Allen, managing director of the Missionary Department, which oversees the "I'm a Mormon" campaign, tells the Times that "the timing and tenor of the campaign have nothing to do with the political campaigns of two Mormons running for president . . . To avoid the perception that it was trying to influence politics, the church is intentionally not airing the campaign in states that have early primaries, going so far as to cancel their advertising in Las Vegas when Nevada moved up its primary."

Jeremy W. Peters, New York Times media reporter, and Jim Rutenberg, a political correspondent at the Times, also posted a blog on the timing and placement of the "I'm a Mormon" campaign today. Their conclusion is that campaign is as notable for where it is not being shown as it is for where it is, noting that the campaign won't be playing in "New Hampshire, Iowa or South Carolina, the states that will likely to play a big role in determining who gets the Republican nomination."

"The church is extremely sensitive to perceptions that it tries to influence politics in any way," Peters and Rutenberg write. "And those sensitivities have only deepened now that Mitt Romney, a Mormon who has held senior positions within the church, is a frontrunner in some polls of the Republican field. The church maintains what it calls a 'political neutrality' policy that forbids it from endorsing or promoting candidates. But those restrictions do not apply to individual members, who are encouraged to be active in political causes and elections, and often are."

Which is not to say that the campaign will only be seen in states that will be "non-consequential" in the 2012 election. Peters and Rutenberg note that the ads will "air in several key swing states that have relatively early primaries like Florida (Jan. 31), Colorado (Feb. 7) and Arizona (Feb. 28). And voters in Pennsylvania and Indiana — two swing states that have late primaries but could play an influential role in the general election — will also see the ads."

And that may not be a good thing for Romney, according to the original Times story. "The Mormon image problem is a problem not only for the church, but also for Mr. Romney," writer Laurie Goodstein observes. "For all their success professionally and financially, Mormons still face a level of religious bigotry in the United States equal only to that faced by Muslims."

Goodstein's story also quotes an unnamed source who worked professionally on the "I'm a Mormon" campaign who indicated that the success of LDS presidential candidates may actually work against the church in terms of image and outreach.

"The people who are very savvy within the church and understand media," the source said, "know that if Romney gets the nomination, ultimately for the church it's a problem. Politicians are polarizing figures, they're not uniting figures. What it does is completely eliminate the option of Mormonism among a whole swath of people who will never ever consider it. They'll say, I know one Mormon — our president — and I hate that guy."

EMAIL: jwalker@desnews.com

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