Mitt Romney's Mormon religion is enough of an obstacle for him among some voters that the Republican presidential candidate was prompted to give a much- advertised speech on faith last week.
There is one area, however, where the former Massachusetts governor's religious affiliation gives him an important advantage: money. Fellow Mormons are pouring millions into his candidacy and promoting his campaign.
Residents of Utah, where members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints are a majority of the population, donated $4.5 million to Romney's campaign in the first nine months of the year. That's almost as much as the $5.4 million that Utahans gave to all federal candidates and the political parties during the 2004 presidential campaign.
Interviews with Romney's Mormon contributors show that their common faith is an important element of their support.
"He was a leader in the church. Those people are really trusted and full of integrity," said lawyer Chad Taylor of Arlington, Virginia, who has set up a Web site to promote Romney's campaign. "In that sense, it makes me have a little bit of an insight into him."
David Alvord, a dentist from South Jordan, Utah, said that in addition to agreeing with Romney's positions, he believes his candidacy will help clear up misconceptions about Mormons.
"When people see that our president has one wife, they can no longer wonder, 'Are Mormons polygamous?"' Alvord, keeper of a blog about Romney, said.
Kelly Patterson, director of the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, said that the state's largely conservative voters likely would gravitate toward a Republican anyway.
With Romney, political alignment and shared faith "reinforce each other and account for much of his success raising money here," Patterson said.
Mormons make up a little more than 60 percent of Utah's population, compared with less than 2 percent across the country. The state's $55,179 three-year average median income is ninth in the nationhigher than New York or California, according to the Census Bureaugiving Romney an affluent if small resource to tap.
Campaign spokesman Kevin Madden declined to talk about Romney's support from fellow Mormons.
"Governor Romney's support is the result of people from every walk of life believing that he has the right experience, the right vision and the strong values to lead the Republican Party and the nation," he said.
Faith and Voters
Some state polls and anecdotal evidence suggest resistance to Romney, 60, because of his Mormonism among voters who regard themselves as conservative Christians. While he has been a frontrunner in Iowa and New Hampshire, the states holding the first contests in the nomination race, he runs well behind other candidates in national polls.
The concerns about his religion during the campaign prompted Romney to reverse his earlier refusal to address questions about his faith to give a speech Dec. 6 in Texas.
In it, he made reference to the speech John F. Kennedy gave during the 1960 presidential campaign to Protestant Baptist leaders who were suspicious about Kennedy's Catholicism. Romney promised that he "will put no doctrine of any church above the plain duties of the office and the sovereign authority of the law." He declined to outline or explain specific doctrines of the church and mentioned the word Mormon only once.
For some Mormons, the chance to see one of their own as the next president generates enthusiasm like that in the Jewish community when Senator Joseph Lieberman ran for vice president on the 2000 Democratic ticket. Both groups have a history of being persecuted because of their religious beliefs.
"There is a fervor among Mormons for a serious Mormon candidate," said Representative Chris Cannon, a Utah Republican and member of the LDS church who has endorsed Romney. "Many Mormons believe this will be good for people to understand who Mormons are."
Mormon supporters of Romney cite his record in business and government and his positions on issues as the main reason for climbing aboard his bandwagon. His religion seals the deal.
Heather Johnson, a bookkeeper who lives near Chapel Hill, North Carolina, was pregnant with her fourth child when she first met Romney at a Tennessee rally. When her child was born in September, she got a phone call from her candidate. She runs the Moms4Mitt Web site, and said the fact she and Romney share the same religion means they also share the same values.
"I know what his value system is," the former Salt Lake City resident said. Church leaders "have told us we should seek out one of our own and offer them up to the community for community service. I feel that we've doing what we've been told to do."