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Writer suggests Democrats — not Mitt Romney — have a Mormon problem

Conservatives say the media has a Mormon problem instead

Published: Monday, April 23 2012 4:11 p.m. MDT

Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney signs his autograph at Consol Energy Research and Development Facility in South Park Township, Pa., Monday, April 23, 2012.

Associated Press

Do Democrats have a Mormon problem?

Peter Beinart, writing at The Daily Beast, argues that the 2012 campaign pairing — Mitt Romney against President Barack Obama — may tempt some Democrats to play on anti-Mormon bigotry. However he said, Democrats must avoid the temptation.

"The temptation comes in various forms," Beinart wrote. "The first is to mock Mormonism for its allegedly weird theology. I recently heard a political commentator mock Mormons for the underpants some wear under their clothing. But undergarments designed to remind a person of his religious obligations are hardly unique to Mormonism. In truth, every religion's practices and beliefs — if taken out of context — can seem nutty."

A 2011 Gallup poll shows Republicans are more willing to vote for a Mormon for president than Democrats, with 18 percent of Republicans saying they would not be willing to vote for a Mormon as opposed to 27 percent of Democrats.

Beinart wrote that one reason Democrats may be more "anti-Mormon" than Republicans is because Democrats are more secular and exhibit greater suspicion of all organized religions. Beinart also said the LDS Church's actions regarding the priesthood and gay marriage help Democrats justify their feelings toward Mormons.

"Democrats should remember the fear and revulsion they felt when conservative played on Obama's race and do everything humanly possible to prevent their party mates from doing the same," Beinart said. "It's important that Barack Obama wins this election, but for the country's sake, it's more important that Mormonism not lose."

In an April campaign stop in Farmington, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, warned that Romney's religion would become a talking point in the 2012 election.

"You watch, they're going to throw the Mormon church at (Romney) like you can't believe," Hatch said.

"Attacking a candidate's religion is out of bounds, and our campaign will not engage in it," Obama spokesman Ben Labolt told The Huffington Post in November 2011.

"Let's remember that President Obama has had so many things hurled at him — birth certificate questions, whether he is or is not Christian," Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz said. "For them to suggest that religion will be injected by President Obama and the Democratic Party, I mean, I think they need to take a look inward at the accusations that their party and their supporters have hurled before they take that step."

While the Obama administration denies it will use Mormonism as a wedge issue in the election, it has already become a talking point in the coverage of the 2012 race — something Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council said he expected to happen.

"I think the media, and the American public via the media, will know all they want to know about Mormonism," Perkins said. "I think the left-leaning media that is sympathetic to the president will try to drive a wedge deeper between (Romney) and social conservatives."

At the beginning of April, MSNBC host Lawrence O'Donnell made inflammatory and inaccurate statements about the LDS Church during his analysis of the presidential primaries in Wisconsin, Maryland and Washington, D.C. He later apologized for "two sentences" that "offended a great many Mormons."

On April 19, Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, a Democrat, said Romney would have problems attracting women voters because his father was "born on a polygamy commune in Mexico."

"(Women are) not great fans of polygamy, 86 percent were not great fans of polygamy," Schweitzer said. "I am not alleging by any stretch that Romney is a polygamist and approves of (the) polygamy lifestyle, but his father was born into (a) polygamy commune in Mexico."

Others were quick to point out that Romney's great-grandfather was the last in his family to practice polygamy, while President Barack Obama's father was a polygamist.

"Attacking a candidate's religion is out of bounds, and our campaign will not engage in it, and we don't think others should either," Obama spokeswoman Lis Smith told The Daily Beast.

Journalists and conservative bloggers have suggested that voters may be far less interested in Romney's religion than the media likes to portray.

"Mitt Romney doesn't have a religion problem," The Lonely Conservative blog stated. "The liberal media does."

In a Twitter conversation, David Freddoso of the Washington Examiner asked, "Are voters really talking about Romney's Mormonism, or are journalists just writing about voters possibly talking about it?"

National Review's Jonah Goldberg responded, saying, "Or are reporters asking voters about Mormonism and then writing 'voters are talking Mormonism' pieces?"

"If I ask you about albino zombies and you say 'Huh?' I can then write piece 'Freddoso asking questions about albino zombies,'" Goldberg continued.

"And voters are beginning to ask serious questions about whether Romney is, in fact, an albino zombie," Freddoso concluded.

"While it's not clear just how much success these off-line attempts to delegitimize Romney will have, there's little question that a strategy to brand Romney as 'weird' has been a talking point inside some high Democratic circles since last summer," Jonathan Tobin wrote at Commentary Magazine. "The trick will be to allow President Obama, whose supporters treated all efforts to vet his associations with radical figures as racism four years ago, to stay above the fray while others throw mud at Romney."

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