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Will Mitt Romney's 'Mormon moment' help his campaign?

When a Dallas pastor called Mr. Romney’s faith – Mormonism – a 'cult' at a recent convention of Christian conservatives, he brought into the open the role of religion in the primaries.

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Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney addressed the Values Voter Summit in Washington in October. Evangelical voters appear divided in their support for Romney.

Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

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Perhaps Robert Jeffress did Mitt Romney a favor.

When the Dallas pastor called Mr. Romney’s faith – Mormonism – a “cult” at a recent convention of Christian conservatives, he brought into the open a simmering issue: whether a leading Republican presidential candidate should be judged over religious beliefs some Americans see as outside the mainstream.

Romney’s “Mormon moment” was bound to happen sooner or later in this campaign. Four years ago, during his first presidential campaign, it happened when the chatter over Mormonism got loud enough that the former Massachusetts governor saw fit to deliver a major speech on faith. Most memorably, it was presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, an ordained Southern Baptist minister, who made headlines by wondering out loud if Mormons believe Jesus and the devil are brothers. He later apologized to Romney, but the damage may already have been done.

This time, polls show continuing public reservations about electing a Mormon president – especially among white Evangelicals, an important part of the Republican base. In June, a Pew Research Center poll showed 34 percent of white Evangelicals are “less likely” to support a Mormon for president; 25 percent of the overall population feels that way. Those numbers are little changed from 2007.

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