The weekend's Values Voters Summit in Washington, D.C., was not kind to Mitt Romney. The slow-and-steady frontrunner in the GOP presidential race placed near-last in the summit's straw poll and faced potentially damaging attacks on his Mormon religion from some of the conservative conference's speakers. Dallas pastor Robert Jeffress, a key evangelical Christian backer of Texas Gov. Rick Perry, started things rolling by asking the conference: "Do we want a candidate who is a good, moral person — or one who is a born-again follower of the lord Jesus Christ?" Just to make things clear, Jeffress followed up later by saying that Romney is "not a Christian" and that Mormonism is a "cult." Some speakers criticized Jeffress and others for making an issue of Romney's Mormonism, though plenty of commentators thought the rather muted response from Romney's rivals to this "religious bigotry" was "pathetically insufficient." Could this anti-Mormonism turn evangelicals against Romney — and cost him the election?
Yes. This could hurt Romney: "Nearly half of Americans view Mormonism negatively," says Juan Cole at Informed Comment, as do more than one-third of white evangelicals. In 2008, 44 percent of Republican primary voters were evangelicals. "They are an outsized proportion of the party base." And even if Romney overcomes this hurdle to win the nomination, evangelicals who are less than enthusiastic about his candidacy might stay home on election day in November 2012 — increasing President Obama's chances.
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No. The Right's anti-Obama anger is too strong: It was inevitable that Romney's religion was going to become an issue during the race, says Dan Amira at New York. And yes, Romney's Mormonism will be a problem for some GOP voters, "particularly if prominent voices keep referring to Mormonism as a cult." But none of the attendees we talked to said their dislike of Mormonism would affect their vote if Romney's their best shot to defeat President Obama. Romney still has "a very good chance" to be the nominee — and to beat Obama.
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Mormonism is the least of Romney's problems: The "Mormon issue" might not sink Romney, says Alexander Burns at Politico. But he's got a "bigger problem with social conservatives": They "just don't believe his ideological sincerity." On issues from abortion to gay rights to health care, Romney is paying the price for his previous life as a moderate Massachusetts politician. If Christian conservatives can finally agree on an anti-Romney candidate, Mitt could be in serious trouble.
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