Poll: Utah voters believe Romney's Mormon faith hurting him less this time
"There's no question that Romney's religion is a mixed bag," said Kirk Jowers, a longtime Romney advisor and head of the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics.
"It's been incredibly helpful to him in some states, in fundraising, in volunteers, in imaging," Jowers said. Romney was able to count on LDS voters in states like Nevada and Arizona to help deliver victories.
Jowers said the Utahns polled were correct in their assessment.
"It has hurt him this time less than before because Romney is know for many things, not just for being the Mormon candidate," he said. "Romney will win or lose the nomination and the general election on factors others than his religion."
The Utah voters polled agreed that other areas were also hurting Romney in the campaign, especially what's been referred to by opponents as his "flip-flopping" on key issues such as abortion.
Fifty-nine percent of those surveyed said Romney's changing positions have taken a toll in the race. So has his personal wealth, according to 37 percent, and his perceived moderate political ideology, said 24 percent. Not seen as causing trouble were his work history or his leadership of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.
Romney's opponents have tried to make all of those issues in the campaign, but it's the candidate himself who has drawn the most attention to his privileged background as the son of Michigan's former governor and his personal fortune.
Estimated to be worth some $250 million, Romney has, for example, recently referred to his wife's two Cadillacs while describing the American cars his family drives. He also said he has friends who own NASCAR teams while attending the Daytona 500.
"That's the biggest problem he seems to have, when he tries to play the 'Everyman.' He's just remarkably bad at it," Swigger said. "Mitt Romney has a lot of strengths, but he's really rich guy and he comes across as a really rich guy."
Atlanta-based Republican strategist Joel McElhannon said that inability to connect with voters is a bigger problem for Romney than his membership in the LDS Church.
"It just undermines everything that he's doing. He struggles with connecting with people who are not wealthy and with evangelicals," McElhannon said.
Romney's faith may be a deal breaker with some evangelical voters but he called it " a small issue. The issue with Mitt Romney is not religion, it's one of trust."
While voters in the survey had strong opinions about how Romney is being perceived, they had little idea about who'd they like to see as his running mate should he secure the nomination.
A majority, 56 percent, said they just didn't know. Santorum and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who is campaigning for Romney, received the most support, each with 7 percent of the Utahns polled.
Ron Paul, the other Republican in the race and a former Libertarian Party presidential candidate, was the favorite of 6 percent, and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, seen by many as a likely choice, was the pick of 5 percent.
Gingrich was liked by just 3 percent; former GOP vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin, by 2 percent ;and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, 1 percent. Others, like former Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt, a former cabinet member who is campaigning for Romney, didn't garner any support.
Fourteen percent offered other choices for the No. 2 spot on the GOP ticket, with former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. the top name mentioned. Huntsman was a candidate for president until January, when he dropped out and endorsed Romney.
"Utahns are right," Jowers said. "We don't know and it's just too soon at this point."
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