While Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's apparent plans to use members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as a national springboard to a 2008 presidential campaign may go beyond what other LDS politicians have done, it is unique only in its wide breadth and energetic goals.

A Boston Globe story that ran Thursday details efforts by Romney supporters — including his own brother — in organizing a Brigham Young University alumni group that has members across the United States. The story also details meetings with LDS Church leaders concerning the efforts.

"Any candidate will use what networks he can tap into," said LaVarr Webb, a Deseret Morning News conservative columnist. "But this one (the Mormon vote) is especially risky for Romney."

Webb said that's because many voters across the country are already wary of a Mormon presidential candidate, polls show.

"He doesn't want to be seen as the Mormon candidate," Webb said.

Romney is not running for re-election this year for governor, retiring after just one four-year term. And while Romney has not formally announced that he's seeking the Republican Party presidential nomination in two years, he has set up various political action committees and has been raising money and traveling to early primary states.

Romney jumped into the scandal-ridden Utah 2002 Winter Olympic Games organization and as head of the Games committee is credited with turning the group around and carrying off a successful, and financially secure, Games.

He then left Utah, went back to his Boston suburban home and ran for governor in mid-2002, winning election as a moderate Republican in a heavily Democratic state.

In local and regional politics, LDS candidates routinely run off a base of church members, although The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints always maintains a strict rule of neutrality in partisan politics.

Utah Democrats were really struggling in state legislative races in the mid-1980s, their numbers had dropped so low in the 29-member Senate, just five Democrats, that the minority party couldn't attend all of the budget committees, which met at the same time.

The then-state Democratic Party chairman started recruiting Democratic candidates who were currently, or recently had been, lay leaders in their local LDS congregations.

LDS Democrats began winning some races, in part because Mormon voters liked them personally, even if they were wary of Democrats as a group.

In 2000, U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, briefly jumped into the GOP presidential race.

While Hatch steadfastly denied that he was targeting Mormons in Iowa and New Hampshire, Hatch did attend various LDS Church meetings while campaigning in the areas. (Although he did not personally campaign at the wardhouses.) And through contacts between Mormons throughout the states, it was well-known that he was standing for election.

LDS Church leaders "have made it very plain, in statement after statement, that the church is nonpartisan. And anyone who tries to use the church to their political advantage runs the risk of a backlash from voters, both church members and non-church members. Even church members resent attempts to use the church to benefit them politically," Webb said.


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