Mormons on both sides of the aisle look to Election Day and beyond

Published: Sunday, Nov. 4 2012 6:00 p.m. MST

In this April 16, 2012 file photo, Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and his wife Ann, are seen outside Fenway Park baseball stadium in Boston. Americans Mormons are considering the possibilities as one of their own — Mitt Romney — enters Election Day with a very real chance to become the first Mormon president of the United States.

Steven Senne, Associated Press

Gayle Castleton lives in a house divided. Her husband, Ron, is a strong supporter of Mitt Romney for president. She is a Mormon Democrat who makes no secret of her support for President Barack Obama.

"We've been carefully walking around this whole election thingy," she said, playfully, when asked about Tuesday's presidential election. "We're both really trying to rein in the snarky comments."

Regardless of whose candidate wins, Castleton thinks “it is absolutely amazing that we are having a presidential election between a Mormon candidate and a bi-racial candidate.”

“Who would have ever guessed this one?” she asked. “The only thing that would have made it better is if one of them had been a woman, too.”

While a U.S. presidential election is always important, determining as it does the single most powerful and influential person in the world for the coming four years, for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, this presidential election is particularly meaningful. For the first time in history, a Mormon — Mitt Romney — is the candidate of a major political party for the highest office in the land. Last-minute public opinion polls suggest he actually has a solid chance of defeating incumbent Obama in what is likely to be a closely contested race until the final ballot is counted.

Castleton's feeling of amazement was echoed by Joseph A. Cannon, well-known Utah attorney and businessman and former editor of the Deseret News.

“When viewed through the long, contextual lens of history, it really hasn’t been that long — 130 years, to be precise — since my great-grandfather, George Q. Cannon, was denied his duly elected position in the U.S. Congress because he actively practiced his Mormon beliefs,” Cannon said Saturday. “That we are within a few days of the very real possibility that Americans will elect an active, practicing Latter-day Saint as president of the United States is in itself astonishing to me.

“No matter what happens on Election Day,” Cannon continued, “the very fact that a member of the LDS Church is a viable candidate for the highest office in the land is a huge step forward in terms of the image, perception and reputation of the church.”

Which is why Derik Giovannoni, a Latter-day Saint accountant living in Houston, says, “You can’t help but feel a little sense of pride and acceptance” in considering the possibility of a Romney presidency.

“When you think that a religion that comprises fewer than 2 percent of the entire U.S. population may soon claim as members both the U.S. Senate Majority Leader (Sen. Harry Reid) and the president of the United States," Giovannoni noted, "well, I think that goes a long way toward bringing that religion out of obscurity.”

Matthew Bowman, visiting professor of religion at Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia and the author of “The Mormon People: The Making of an American Faith,” has been following the election campaign of a Mormon candidate from both an academic/historical perspective as well as from his perspective as a practicing Latter-day Saint. Based on conversations he has had with church members around the country, he believes “there is a sense of accomplishment.”

“I know a lot of Mormons who don’t like Romney’s politics, but they feel a sense of kinship or sympathy with Romney because he’s part of the tribe,” Bowman said. “There is this tribal loyalty that goes beyond politics. That loyalty won’t necessarily prompt some of these folks to actually vote for him, but they still seem to feel a certain amount of appreciation for what he is accomplishing as a member of the church.”

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