LAYTON, Utah — It's "absolutely" possible for a Mormon to be president of the United States some day, said Karl Rove, the senior adviser to President George W. Bush, stressing that dissecting the tenets of a religion in conjunction with a candidate is inappropriate.
Rove, credited with being the "architect" of Bush's successful run in politics, was at the Davis Conference Center Thursday evening as the celebrated guest of the Davis County Republican Party's annual Lincoln Day Dinner.
The black-tie affair, at $50 a plate, attracted hundreds of party-faithful, including Rep. Dave Clark, R-Santa Clara, the Utah Legislature's former House Speaker.
"It's great that he's here," he said. "It's why I am here."
Although his speech to the crowd was closed to the media, Rove took a few minutes to speak to reporters beforehand, speaking candidly, and quickly, on his views of the Republican "surge" in the 2010 elections and his prediction on what will happen in the 2012 presidential contest.
That political donnybrook, he said, won't be a guaranteed victory for either candidate — whoever they may be.
"It's a race up in the air, capable of being won by either side."
What will work in Republicans' favor is the state of the economy, which he predicted won't not get much better any time soon. The quagmire of fedeal health care reform also favors the GOP, Rove said.
The mood of the country over skyrocketing national debt, unemployment and financial insecurity was borne out in the significant mid-term Republican victories of 2010, which Rove said constituted a "huge shift that was deliberate, considered and powerful."
Rove said that momentum can carry on in the 2012 presidential bid for the White House, a position that Mitt Romney could be viable contender for.
"He's good. How good? We don't know," he said, noting that those waters will have to be tested.
Rove said the exhaustive examination of Romney's membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints was unnerving for Rove, who has strong ties to Utah. Rove, who is not a member of the LDS Church, graduated from Olympus High School and attended the University of Utah.
"In America, we have enshrined in the Bill of Rights our free expression of religion," said Rove, an Anglican.
When the media picked apart the tenets of the Mormon faith because of Mitt Romney's political aspirations for the White House, it was unprecedented and wrong.
That sort of "deep examination makes me queasy … I do not think it was appropriate."
With former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.'s resignation this week as ambassador to China amid rumors he will make a bid for the White House, Rove speculated that despite Huntsman's charm among voters in Utah, he might have a tough road ahead.
"He has a record to run off of," but that record includes quitting as governor and quitting as ambassador, Rove said.
Additionally, the fact that Huntsman, who is also LDS, agreed to serve in the diplomatic position under a Democratic president raises questions.
"It's an interesting structure he will have to explain."