Mormons Rock!

Article excerpt

Byline: Walter Kirn

They've conquered Broadway, talk radio, the U.S. Senate--and they may win the White House. Why Mitt Romney and 6 million Mormons have the secret to success.

Say what you will about him, but ++Mitt Romney++ [[]] doesn't do, or not do, anything by accident. Take June 2, when the former Massachusetts governor traveled to a quaint farm in Stratham, N.H., to "announce" his foregone conclusion of a 2012 presidential campaign. Romney has to overcome several mountainous challenges before capturing the Republican nomination, and so he spent most of the day trying to reduce them to molehills. To thaw his icy persona, Romney passed out his "famous" family chili and surrounded himself with bales of hay. To account for his moderate governing record, he reminded listeners that the Bay State legislature was "over 85 percent Democrat." And to soften concerns about "Romneycare," he admitted it was "not perfect," then repeated his mantra about it being "a state solution for a state problem."

But there was one challenge--a challenge that could alienate the kind of Republicans who vote in early primary states such as Iowa and South Carolina--that Romney didn't address: his Mormon faith.

No question the ++Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints++ [[]] is "having a moment." Not only is Romney running again--this time, he's likely to be competing against his distant Mormon cousin Jon Huntsman Jr. The Senate, meanwhile, is led by Mormon Harry Reid. Beyond the Beltway, the Twilight vampire novels of Mormon Stephenie Meyer sell tens of millions of copies, Mormon convert Glenn Beck inspires daily devotion and outrage with his radio show, and HBO generated lots of attention with the Big Love finale. Even Broadway has gotten in on the act, giving us The Book of Mormon, a big-budget musical about Mormon missionaries by South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone and Avenue Q writer Robert Lopez that, with 14 nominations, is expected to clean up at the Tony Awards on June 12.

But despite the sudden proliferation of Mormons in the mainstream, Mormonism itself isn't any closer to gaining mainstream acceptance. And nowhere is the gap between increased exposure and actual progress more pronounced than in politics. In recent weeks NEWSWEEK called every one of the 15 Mormons currently serving in the U.S. Congress to ask if they would be willing to discuss their faith; the only politicians who agreed to speak on the record were the four who represent districts with substantial Mormon populations. The rest were "private about their faith," or "politicians first and Mormons second," according to their spokespeople.

The evasiveness extends even to presidential candidates. In late 2007 Romney traveled to Texas A&M to soothe evangelicals with a speech that downplayed the distinctiveness of Mormonism. "It's important to recognize that while differences in theology exist between the churches in America," he said, "we share a common creed of moral convictions." Since then, Romney has rarely commented on the subject.

The more moderate Huntsman, meanwhile, has repeatedly deflected attention from his Mormon roots, telling NEWSWEEK in December that religious issues "don't matter" and that the LDS church doesn't have a monopoly on his spiritual life. He and his wife "draw from a lot of sources for inspiration," he said. "I was raised a Mormon, Mary Kaye was raised Episcopalian, our kids have gone to Catholic school, I went to a Lutheran school growing up in Los Angeles. I have [an adopted] daughter from India who has a very distinct Hindu tradition, one that we would celebrate during Diwali. So you kind of bind all this together."

One could argue that Romney and Huntsman, like their Mormon colleagues in Congress, are right to take religion off the table; after all, many politicians are all too eager to exploit it. …