Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Mitt happens

Those of us here in the Bay State have been expecting this for a long, long time. It's been pretty clear for almost his entire final year as governor that Mitt Romney is gunning for the White House in 2008. And we've watched, in shock-and-awe much of the time, as he's won over a surprisingly large portion of the country. But there was always one aspect that was whispered as his biggest hurdle. And the thought was, soon enough the rest of the media would bring this aspect out and bring him down. The point: He's a Mormon.

Time has caught up.

Mike Allen asks the big question: Can a Mormon be President?

Well, he makes it appear that it depends on what Allen describes as the Church of Latter Day Saints' "public relations offensive," which may include somewhat distancing himself from the religious baggage -- a bold move in an era characterized by heavy reliance on the religious right vote. Though they tend to be Southerners and not Mormons. But anyhow, on with the distancing!

Romney advisers are debating whether he will need to give a big speech in the tradition of John F. Kennedy, who told Protestant church leaders in Houston 46 years ago that he was "not the Catholic candidate for President" but instead was "the Democratic Party's candidate for President, who happens also to be Catholic."

I don't think the question is whether a Mormon can be President or whether Romney can distance himself from his religion. The question really is: How much will the media beat the issue of Romney's Mormonism into the ground? And furthermore, will it be enough to effectively ruin his candidacy? For the damage so far, let's go to the tape.

The Globe's been all over it since the get-go. Ditto the Weekly Standard, who brings up the Kennedy issue: "The country could be looking at its first Mormon president--or, as Romney would prefer to put it, a president who happens to be a Mormon." The Los Angeles Times and Bloomberg conducted a poll in June and found that 35% of registered voters would not consider voting for a Mormon for President and only Islam would be a more damaging faith for a candidate.

For evidence that the media is circling the issue, ready to rip Romney to shreds, Google the words "Mormon" and "President." Pages and pages arise with the same question asked by our friends in Time, though occasionally worded differently. Can a Mormon be President? Maybe, if he can survive the media storm.


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