Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Can Romney Rise to Top of GOP Presidential Pack? ; Hurdles Include His Mormon Faith and Convincing Voters of His Views on Social Issues

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Can Romney Rise to Top of GOP Presidential Pack? ; Hurdles Include His Mormon Faith and Convincing Voters of His Views on Social Issues

Article excerpt

On paper, Mitt Romney should be a strong contender for the Republican presidential nomination: He can boast successes as an executive in business, in saving the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, and as governor of Massachusetts, in a country that in recent decades has tended to elect governors president.

Mr. Romney is telegenic and articulate, and presents the all- American family - wife Ann, five sons, five daughters-in-law, 10 grandchildren. And in a race where early money is more important than ever, he raised $6.5 million in just one day in January, soon after announcing his exploratory committee. He also has more congressional backers (26) than even top contender Sen. John McCain of Arizona (who has 21), according to a Los Angeles Times survey.

But to a majority of Americans, he is either "Mitt Who?" or if they have heard of him, they don't have an opinion. In national polls of GOP voters, he posts single digits, trailing far behind the front- runners for his party's nomination.

So, after Romney's formal announcement of candidacy on Tuesday, the question is: Can he be a giant-killer and grab the Republican nomination from his far-better-known rivals, Senator McCain and former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani?

Of course he can, analysts say. It's early. Anything is possible. But along the way, he will face significant hurdles. The factor getting the most attention is his Mormon faith, and polls that show a significant portion of Americans saying they would not be willing to elect a Mormon president. The latest poll, released by Gallup on Tuesday, found that 24 percent of Americans would not be willing to vote for a "generally well-qualified person for president who happened to be Mormon" in the general election.

A similar question, asked in a Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll in December, put the number at 14 percent. And perhaps most relevant to Romney's chances of getting the GOP nomination, that poll found that 25 percent of white Evangelical Protestants - a key constituency in the Republican primaries - are unwilling to vote for a Mormon.

"That's not insurmountable, but it's worth paying attention to," says John Green, a senior fellow at the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. Some analysts may be overstating the impact of Romney's religious affiliation, he adds, "but it will be incumbent upon him to put it to rest."

The Romney campaign says he is seriously considering delivering a speech that addresses the religion question head on, the way John Kennedy addressed his Catholicism in a speech before the 1960 election. As with candidate Kennedy, Romney faces concerns that he would have dual allegiances, to both his church and the Constitution.

But for Romney, the Mormon issue has another dimension: Some Evangelicals view the religion as a cult, and even non-Christian; there is resentment over recruitment of Evangelicals into the church formally known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. …

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