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Romney’s religion may become issue in election

All things being equal, Rick Perry and Mitt Romney won’t be equal. At least not to evangelical Christian voters, who remain divided over whether Mormon believers are lost ó or whether the Latter-day Saints will be vital allies in the effort to elect a church-backed conservative president.|By Bud Kennedy, McClatchy Newspapers

All things being equal, Rick Perry and Mitt Romney won’t be equal.

At least not to evangelical Christian voters, who remain divided over whether Mormon believers are lost ó or whether the Latter-day Saints will be vital allies in the effort to elect a church-backed conservative president.

In June, a Gallup Poll found that 1 in 5 Republicans would simply refuse to vote for anyone of the Mormon faith, period.

If even half that many Republicans reject Romney or former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman over religion, they would start 10 points behind in primary states such as Iowa and South Carolina that Perry’s strategists consider launch pads to the nomination.

“Nobody’s talking about religion right now because everybody’s too busy talking about the tea party,” said Mark Silk, a religion professor at Trinity College in Connecticut. He co-wrote a study on how in 2008, evangelical opposition kept Romney stalled behind former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.

“I think if Romney is the nominee, evangelicals will support him,” Silk said.

“But if the primary matchup is Romney against an evangelical ó given the way the Republican electorate is, that’s the way the vote will go.”

In the years since Romney gave his Faith in America 2007 speech at the Bush Library in College Station, Texas, evangelical Christians and Mormons have bonded over causes such as the California defeat of same-sex marriage.

Lately, new Texan Glenn Beck, a Mormon convert in 1999, co-starred with evangelical historian David Barton of Aledo, Texas, at rallies.

On his Facebook page, Barton quotes the Book of Matthew to defend Beck: “By their fruit you will recognize them.”

Barton spelled it out: “Mormons are more pro-life and pro-traditional sexuality than Evangelicals. … If the marriage issue (in California) had been left to Evangelicals, the marriage amendment would have failed.”

But so far, evangelical primary voters seem less interested in Romney than in Michele Bachmann or Perry, who summoned believers to The Response prayer rally after he was practically drafted to lead a get-out-the-church-vote campaign.

Bill Ames of Dallas, a conservative textbook reviewer for the Texas Eagle Forum, said Romney’s religion is “off the radar for discussion right now.”

That’s because evangelicals already don’t like Massachusetts’ health plan, he said.

“His religion is overshadowed by his flirtation with an Obamacare-style health program,” Ames said.

Instead of preaching against Mormonism, evangelicals are focused on a “perceived Islamic threat,” he said. “Mormonism isn’t even on the radar.”

Guess it’s not election time.

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(Bud Kennedy is a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.)
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©2011 the Fort Worth Star-Telegram

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