Mitt's Mormon effect: a drag in the South, but a boost on Pacific isles

Published: Thursday, March 15 2012 8:20 a.m. MDT

Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks at a town hall meeting at Capital University in Bexley, Ohio, Wednesday, Feb. 29, 2012. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Gerald Herbert, AP

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The same thing apparently dragging down Mitt Romney's presidential candidacy in the South — his membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — is proving to be a veritable life raft in the far-flung isles of the Pacific Ocean.

After this week's Republican presidential primaries in Alabama and Mississippi, Amy Davidson blogged for The New Yorker about the strong likelihood Romney's LDS faith cost him votes in both states.

"Ought anyone really take pleasure in the idea that Mitt Romney may have lost the South because some critical number of evangelical voters can’t find it in their hearts to trust a Mormon? … One CNN exit poll found that 44 percent of voters in Alabama felt that a candidate’s religion was highly important; of those, 15 percent said that they had voted for Romney. Earlier in the day, the Governor of Alabama had told CNN that while Mormonism did not in any way bother him it did have a 'subtle' working on certain voters in the state, one that they might not admit out loud — only to themselves in the voting booth."

But in the blog post "Are Mormons Keeping Mitt Romney Afloat?" published Wednesday, The Atlantic's Timothy Stanley examined a counterbalance to Romney's religious riddle: while mainland America slept Tuesday night, Mormon voters in American Samoa and Hawaii played a significant role in Romney notching two victories that were big enough to wipe out the delegate edge Rick Santorum harvested earlier in the day with narrow victories in Alabama and Mississippi.

Stanley wrote that the wins in American Samoa and Hawaii, coupled with Romney's victories in the Saturday caucuses on Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands, "have given (Romney) at least 36 delegates — a small number, perhaps, but one more hard-earned step towards the nomination. … Romney's victories owed something to the Pacific islands' large population of Mormons. In fact, local members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints may have proved crucial to winning each of these caucuses."

The Associated Press estimates the delegate totals in the race for the Republican presidential nomination are Romney, 495; Santorum, 252; Newt Gingrich, 131; and Ron Paul, 48. The number of delegates needed to secure the GOP nomination is 1,144.

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