Easing public concern
That Romney's Mormon faith infuses his life and informs his approach to public service is evident. But at this unusually religion-focused time in politics, the irony is that Romney has had to be more cautious than most presidential candidates in how he discusses his faith. Public wariness toward the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), the Mormon Church's official name, remains deep-seated. Polls continue to show that a sizable portion of the electorate – 27 percent, Newsweek found in July – would not vote for a Mormon for president. Among GOP primary voters, the numbers get even more daunting: A February poll by the Pew Research Center found that 40 percent of white evangelical Protestants, most of whom are Republicans, would be "less likely" to support a Mormon for president.
One other issue poses as significant a hurdle to Romney in his quest for the nomination: his switch to conservative positions on social issues, including abortion and stem-cell research. Some conservatives remain skeptical over the timing of his conversion, coming as it did after he had won the governorship of liberal Massachusetts and began laying the groundwork for a presidential run.
But it's the Mormon issue that could turn ugly for Romney. Already, anti-Mormon incidents have sprung up out of rival GOP presidential campaigns. In a few instances, voters themselves have confronted Romney with hostile questions. One, captured on a video posted on YouTube, refused to shake his hand.
As the January start of primary season draws closer, "I think [his religion] is a huge problem for him …. if he's doing well in the polls," says Alan Wolfe, director of the Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life at Boston College. "This is a party that unleashes attack dogs, and it will be too tempting for one of the other candidates not to do it.