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Perception of Mitt Romney election to presidency would be similar to that of John F. Kennedy, scholar says

Published: Monday, Aug. 8 2011 11:47 p.m. MDT

If Mitt Romney were to be elected president of the United States in 2012, the concern that some voters now have with his membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints would dissipate the same way it did with voters’ concerns about John F. Kennedy’s Catholicism, Newell Bringhurst said Friday morning at the opening presentation of the Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research (FAIR) Conference.

Bringhurst, an independent scholar and former professor emeritus of history and political science at the College of the Sequoias in Visalia, Calif., described how previous to his presidential election in 1960, 25 percent of potential voters polled said that they had an issue with the United States having a president who was a self-professed Catholic. However, once Kennedy was elected, that number dropped into single digits.

“As it was in that election, the Mormon question could similarly be put to bed with an election of Romney,” Bringhurst said.

Bringhurst said he can relate a personal experience to understand the reality of that proposition. When he was a boy, his mother, an active Latter-day Saint, told him that she could never vote for Kennedy because his decisions in office would reflect an allegiance to the pope. But when Bringhurst inquired of his mother’s election decision months later, he said he was dumbfounded to learn that she had voted for Kennedy.

“When I asked why, she said she couldn’t vote for his Republican opponent (Richard Nixon),’ ” Bringhurst said to immense laughs from the audience.

Bringhurst recounted many media reports about the increased national LDS publicity that the two presidential candidacies of Romney and Jon Huntsman Jr. have encouraged, from the “Mormon Moment” Newsweek feature story in June to Romney speaking with Piers Morgan nearly two months ago, to the comment from Fox News’ “Fox and Friend” co-host Ainsley Earhardt on July 17 that Romney “obviously isn’t Christian.”

“Forgive me if I have a Freudian slip and call her Ainsley Airhead,” Bringhurst said about the broadcaster.

The comments came through a six-question presentation, which included LDS Church director of public affairs Michael Otterson’s responses to a variety of derogatory comments about the church, including the discussion from Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention saying how evangelicals ought not to vote for Romney in order to keep from helping the competition.

Though Bringhurst described Huntsman’s candidacy as “in a state of turmoil” by this point due to the resignation of his former campaign manager, he answered a question about how Huntsman’s relationship with President Barack Obama would benefit him if he were to find a way out of the primaries.

“His diplomatic skills and bipartisanship with both Democrats and Republicans could be a plus,” he said.

In a question regarding how LDS Church members have reacted to the contrasting manner in which the two candidates have handled questions about their beliefs toward Mormonism, Bringhurst said that rank-and-file members of the church have leaned toward Romney, citing a recent Gallup poll that stated that Romney was the 85 percent choice of the state, while Huntsman had just 11 percent of the vote.

Audience questions ranged from Ezra Taft Benson’s highly conservative political views and his consideration for running for the presidency in 1968 and the relationship of his policies with those of current Utah Sen. Mike Lee, who doesn’t endorse either Romney or Huntsman.

And the presentation wasn’t without humor.

When Bringhurst responded to a question about whether or not Harry Reid would be called as a home teacher for an LDS president, the scholar didn’t hesitate.

“I’m not capable of answering that,” Bringhurst said, before mentioning a time while studying in Berkeley when a former Black Panther, who was a convert to the church, referred to him as “Brother Bringhurst,” emphasizing the dichotomy of members of the church holding varied political positions. “That’s my non-answer answer to that question.”

Email: rwilkinson@desnews.com Twitter: wilklogan

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