Latter-Day President

Article excerpt

It would be easy to come up with a long list of secular reasons why Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman want to run for president. Romney has personal and familial ambition to burn. He decided against seeking a second term as governor of Massachusetts so he could contest his party's presidential nomination in '08. That set him up as heir apparent for next year, given the GOP electorate's penchant for rewarding runners-up. Never mind beating Obama--just winning the nomination would be an achievement that his late father, automotive CEO and Michigan governor George Romney, never managed.

For his 51 years on this earth, Jon Huntsman Jr., scion of an industrialist father, has bounced around the diplomatic circuit with ambassadorial appointments to Singapore and China. He was twice elected governor of Utah, the second time by a landslide. That's the sort of resume from which presidential runs are fashioned--and not just the doomed ones. George H.W. Bush had been chief of the U.S. liaison to the People's Republic in the days before mainland China had an ambassador.

Yet there's a religious dimension to these presidential aspirants as well. Romney and Huntsman are Mormons. Their creed is the prism through which just about everybody--voters and pundits alike--views these candidates. Can Romney overcome evangelical objections to his latter-day faith? What about liberal sneering over Mormon social conservatism? Will a second LDS adherent in the race make it harder for Romney to hoover up Mormon money and volunteers? Is Huntsman a "Jack Mormon"--a Mormon In Name Only--as some have alleged? Or is he simply unaccustomed to talking about his faith?

Above all, should Mormonism play some role in the press coverage?

Of course it should, if for no other reason than that Mormonism and Mormons are fascinating. Mormonism is America's most ambitious religion. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints makes serious demands of its members. It sends hordes of young, squeaky-clean, short-term missionaries to Florida, France--where Romney served while his dad lost the GOP nod to Richard Nixon in 1968--and the furthest reaches. It baptizes not just the living but the dead, a practice that creates conflict with people of other faiths who don't like Mormons laying claim to their forebears. …