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February 1, 2015

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Romney, Huntsman share Mormon roots, took different life paths


Associated Press photos

Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman

Warren Hardy

Warren Hardy

When former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney ran for president four years ago, many saw his Mormon faith as a challenge to overcome much the same way John F. Kennedy had to address his Catholicism in the 1960s. A challenge, that is, everywhere but in Nevada — an early primary state with a significant Mormon population.

Indeed, Mormon volunteers turned out in droves to help Romney organize his successful Nevada campaign. Exit polls showed Mormons made up more than a quarter of the vote in the Nevada caucuses, and Romney won 95 percent of their votes.

But as Nevada heads into another presidential election year as a key Western primary state, Romney isn’t the only Mormon candidate with a serious shot at the presidency. Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, who launched his bid this week, will conclude his opening tour with a day courting voters in Reno.

Like Romney, Huntsman hails from a prominent Mormon family. His faith, coupled with his Western roots, has potentially positioned him as Romney’s chief competitor for Nevada.

“It’s very possible they will split the Mormon vote,” said former state Sen. Warren Hardy, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“They are a couple of people who are very alike philosophically and who have some of the same challenges.”

Romney and Huntsman are similar in many ways.

Both made their fortunes as business executives — Huntsman helped lead his family’s chemical manufacturing company, while Romney led and helped rescue business management firm Bain & Co.

Both have fathers who were involved in politics — Romney’s father was governor of Michigan, while Huntsman’s served in the Nixon administration.

But they also followed different life paths.

Romney attended Stanford University before earning his bachelor’s at Brigham Young University. He then headed to Harvard University for business and law school.

Huntsman dropped out of high school to become a rock star, but eventually earned his GED, attended the University of Utah and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania.

Although Romney has had difficulty shedding his stiff persona that leads to awkwardness on the campaign trail, Huntsman is comfortable in a leather jacket and riding motorcycles — a passion he has touted in his campaign kickoff.

The differences reportedly extend to the way they practice their religion.

Romney, true to his straight-laced self, adheres to orthodoxy. In a landmark speech in 2008, he sought to explain his religion to voters, much the way Kennedy explained his religious beliefs to those skeptical of electing the first Catholic president.

“I believe in my Mormon faith and I endeavor to live by it,” he said. “My faith is the faith of my fathers — I will be true to them and to my beliefs.

“Some believe that such a confession of my faith will sink my candidacy. If they are right, so be it. But I think they underestimate the American people. Americans do not respect believers of convenience.”

Huntsman, on the other hand, has described his relationship with the church as “tough to define.”

“I’m a very spiritual person” as opposed to a religious one, “and proud of my Mormon roots,” he told Time magazine last month.

Pressed on whether he is still a member of the church, he answered: “That’s tough to define. There are varying degrees. I come from a long line of saloon keepers and proselytizers, and I draw from both sides.”

It’s difficult to predict how crucial the Mormon vote will be to a Nevada victory this time. Romney’s strong showing in 2008 is somewhat deceptive — Texas Rep. Ron Paul was the only other Republican to seriously work the state that year.

But if the Nevada caucuses come down to the Mormon vote, Huntsman’s hard-to-define relationship with his church could become a political problem.

For Mormons active in their faith, loyalty to the church is important.

“That could be very problematic with LDS folks,” Hardy said. “They certainly don’t like it when you use religion when it’s convenient. And to his credit, he’s not claiming to be this straight-laced LDS person. But if, in fact, he’s not a particularly practicing member of the church, again, all things being equal, that could push a lot of people toward Romney.”

The question becomes how important the Mormon vote will be this year.

A number of factors change that calculus from 2008.

Romney still enjoys strong ties with Nevada Republicans that extend well beyond those of Mormon faith and he’s worked over the past four years to strengthen them.

But Romney likely won’t be the only major Republican candidate organizing the state, meaning other candidates will be driving other GOP demographics to the caucuses, diluting the strength of Mormon caucusgoers.

Turnout is expected to exceed the 44,000 or so that turned out in 2008, when the Nevada Republican Party didn’t take the Silver State’s early primary status as seriously as it does this time.

Regardless, experts say, Mormons remain an important voting bloc in any election.

“Listen, the bigger the campaign, the less influential any subgroup is, but they are more significant in a smaller race,” said Democratic strategist Dan Hart, who ran a strong Mormon outreach campaign as part of former Henderson Mayor James Gibson’s unsuccessful 2006 gubernatorial bid. “And their culture is such that they are very good voters.”

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  1. During Viet Nam and the draft, Romney started with a student deferment, then like most other Mormon missionaries, received a ministerial deferment while in France, then got another student deferment. When those ran out, his high number in the December 1969 draft lottery was 300, meaning he would not be selected. Lucky for him.

    Neither Huntsman or Romney or their immediate families have ever entered the active military or reserves, but they do support the Iraq and perhaps an Iranian war privately, fought by others.

    Both support privatization of Social Security and Medical care. A Privatized retirement funds can be defaulted upon (bankrupted) due to mismanagement and the managers have NO LEGAL OBLIGATION to pay them back.

    Also, privatized retirement accounts can be taken by bankruptcy courts. Let a recession come by and take your house, the bank will then come after your retirement savings as well. The courts cannot come after Social Security.

    Wall Street and the American Banking System will not be deprived of their ill-gotten gains. After destroying again, the economy, you job and house equity like they just did, then prepare to collect your retirement savings to pay for their greed. Romney and Huntsman do NOT WANT Banking Regulations or a Consumer Protection Administration in the Government.

    Once 30 million retirees hit the streets and convert all the shopping carts into Personal SUVs (PSUVs), the US Military will be the only Security Force that can restore order and the Constitution is GONE. It will have to be suspended for SECURITY reasons.

    When the stock market crashed in 2008, Bush gave Congress the option: either "fund the bail-out or call out the National Guard". He was right too, it was and will be again, one or the other.

    Privatizing Retirement Funds is the road to loosing this Democracy and turning America into a B&A Country: Beggars and Aristocrats. Vote carefully in 2012 because Huntsman and Romney will be voting against it and buying lots of property in Utah, the American version of Ravenna.

  2. IF there is a concern about the status of an LDS candidate's "relationship" with the Church, one only needs to ask a single question: "Do you have a valid Temple Recommend?" Any answer other than "yes" will, in my mind, settle the issue in the negative, if that issue has importance to you. If it doesn't, then why even talk about it? It is unfortunate that, at this point in history, a candidate's religious tenets are an issue at all. I can remember reading from the newspaper clippings my mother kept of the 1960 campaign of JFK. The notion that Kennedy was going to build a tunnel to connect the White House to the Vatican was actually espoused by some of that era. Yet, today there are some who assign almost as inane concepts about the LDS Church and its members a "10" on their "truth" meter without even bothering to have them vetted or debunked. Religious predjudice is surely one of the most corrosive agents found in human society, and needs to be exposed to unbiased truth in order to negate its influence on people.

  3. Sgt James F Nance Jr Rock goes full-on conspiracy theory: "Huntsman is an Obama plant."

    Thanks for the laugh!

    While Dean writes, "It is unfortunate that, at this point in history, a candidate's religious tenets are an issue at all." I completely agree. Unfortunately, a great number of Americans consider religion as a litmus test.

    We see it in both parties, as one in five republicans would not vote for an LDS candidate, while three out of ten Democrats would not.

    Gallup reports it's one of the most common voting biases (alongside GLBT Americans and atheists).

  4. Pete, This is an interesting read on that topic:

  5. Anyone who doesn't believe in the seperation of church and state...doesn't have my vote for President of the United States.

  6. "It is unfortunate that, at this point in history, a candidate's religious tenets are an issue at all."

    deanofdawgs -- yes, unfortunate, but given that church's recent activism in California's Prop 8, a valid concern.

    "sfcanative, AND anyone as ignorant as you buddy doesnt deserve the right to vote!"

    LV_24 -- what exactly did you find "ignorant" in "buddy's" post? Those are pretty much all part of LDS dogma.

    "After coming into contact with a religious man I always feel I must wash my hands." -- Friedrich Nietzsche, 1888 "Ecce Homo - Why I Am a Destiny"

  7. KillerB-

    "LV_24 -- what exactly did you find "ignorant" in "buddy's" post? Those are pretty much all part of LDS dogma."

    Actually none of those dogmas are part of the current LDS belief system. Most of them are obscure doctrinal ideas and opinions held by early LDS leaders over a century ago.

    The list itself seems to be a copy and paste from an anti-mormon countercult christian source. You can bet the author is a fundamentalist evangelical who views mormonism as a satanic cult.

    However the screed does highlight a major obstacle ahead of frontrunner Romney - a massive wall of religious bigotry held by the extreme christian right toward all things mormon.

    The people who vote with their bibles instead of their brains will always be skeptical of candidates who don't share their brand of christian faith.

    It's a shame the party of Ronald Reagan has been hijacked by religious fanatics.

  8. BushDepression-

    Substitute "Jews" or "Blacks" or "Women" for mormons in your post, and reflect upon it.

  9. "Actually none of those dogmas are part of the current LDS belief system. Most of them are obscure doctrinal ideas and opinions held by early LDS leaders over a century ago."

    1776 -- actually you're wrong. For the most part they're current beliefs. The only one I see iffy is the one about going to heaven only with Smith's approval. I know this, I used to be one. Mission, temple marriage, the whole enchilada.

    "I shall have liberty to think for myself without molesting others or being molested myself." -- John Adams, letter to his brother-in-law, Richard Cranch, August 29, 1756, explaining how his independent opinions would create much difficulty in the ministry

  10. First of all, anyone who believes in something without any credible evidence is clearly delusional. (e.g. God) Since Virtually all politicians claim to be of some religious affiliation, I fail to see a meaningful difference between a Mormon, Christian, Jew or Muslim, etc. As long as they support and defend the constitution of the the U.S. then what difference does it make? Why are we wasting our time talking about these two candidate's religion?

  11. DukeOfDeath-

    Well said.

    All religions are equally unprovable, unfounded and created from various cultural myths, folklore and other nonsense.

    This bizarre idea that Mitt Romney's Mormonism is some huge issue, and Barack Obama 's Christianity, George Bush's Evangelicalism, Bill Clinton's Southern Baptism, John F Kennedy's Catholicism and Richard Nixon's Quakerism are not a problem - baffles me.

    Equally strange are those who claim Romney's mormonism makes him unfit to be an effective leader, but Harry Reid's mormonism somehow does not.

    I expect the reasons for this undercurrent of anti-mormonism is the same as that of anti-semitism - bigotry borne of ignorance and primitive religious tribalism.

    As far as I can tell, Mormonism is among the most patriotic and American of religions, weaving concepts like Freedom, Liberty and America as God's "promised land" into its very doctrine.

    Truly, if the president is willing to defend the US Constitution, and if his ultimate loyalty is to the citizens of the Unite States, then what difference does his religion make?

  12. "I expect the reasons for this undercurrent of anti-mormonism is the same as that of anti-semitism - bigotry borne of ignorance and primitive religious tribalism."

    1776 -- again, that church's leaders were strident when they entered the political arena with their support of Prop 8. The history of its activism is nauseating. That will be a heavy and undue influence on Romney.

    About Romney, I still know a few active in the church. They're equally strident about Romney being the ordained one for the presidency. And they're absolutely deaf to all criticism of his fitness.

    But then that's the herd for you.

    "Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the [Republican] party, and they're sure trying to do so, it's going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can't and won't compromise. I know, I've tried to deal with them." -- Senator Barry Goldwater, in "Conservatives Without Conscience" 1994

  13. KillerB-

    The LDS church's anti-gay activism doesn't make them Romney's puppeteer any more than Pastor Wright's anti-americanism influences Obama.

    Perhaps the mormon church does want to socially engineer America by installing a puppet president, but I haven't seen evidence of it.

    The LDS church doesn't appear to control Harry Reid - supposedly an active mormon.

    Your seem to have an axe to grind with the mormon church more so than any legitimate criticisms of Romney's presidential qualifications.

    In any case, I appreciate the Goldwater quote and I hate to see Conservatism hijacked by religious nutballs like it has been.

  14. I'd think most Mormons would vote for Ron Paul given he's much more conservative and Constitutionally sound in his views.

  15. "The LDS church's anti-gay activism doesn't make them Romney's puppeteer any more than Pastor Wright's anti-americanism influences Obama."

    1776 -- where did I say Romney had a puppeteer? Far from it. But the man's dogma is far more likely to influence him than secular candidates.

    No, I don't have any "axe to grind" -- I just don't have any use for organized religion. Religion was already brought into this Discussion before my first post. But I do know something about it.

    Since you seem to like Goldwater ...

    "It's time America realized that there is no gay exemption in the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in the Declaration of Independence." -- Senator Barry Goldwater (1909-1998)

  16. "...and hopefully someday soon, every person regardless of their sexual orientation will have the same rights as every other American."

    MTDice -- actually they do have those rights. That was confirmed in the Declaration of Independence. But as the history of the black civil rights shows, government just refuses to honor them.

    "...a legislative act contrary to the Constitution is not law." -- Marbury v. Madison, 1 Cranch 137, 177 (1803)

  17. Mr. Jon Huntsman (R-Utah), has violated the United States Constitution (Article VI.) by making back-to-back intentional and derogatory references to Gov. Mitt Ronmey's Mormon religion in the LAST TWO debates.

    This insulting behavior was reinforced when, in the last debate, he began his "question" to Gov. Romney by SAYING, and LOOKING DIRECTLY AT MITT ROMNEY: "I AM NOT GOING TO TALK ABOUT YOUR RELIGION."

    Then, after a brief pause (for effect), Huntsman began his "legitimate" question to Governor Romney.

    Yet, being the refined Statesman that he is, Governor Romney maintained his demeanor, did not offer any counter to Huntsman's "insult", and proceeded to answer the question asked by Jon Huntsman. No one challenged Huntsman's words.

    I should note at this point that ANDERSON COOPER (CNN) - who will be one of the interviewers tonight - has also already brought up the subject in his broadcast, yesterday. Ari Fliescher (sic), who was with him on a panel in Las Vegas, immediately told COOPER that the Constitution does not allow a "TEST" of a persons religion as a qualifier for office.

    This is true.

    In ARTICLE VI. of the U.S. Constitution, it says: "... no religious TEST shall ever be required as a QUALIFICATIONS to any office or public trust under the United States."

    I believe Huntsman's off-handed comments (TWICE) can be seen as "a violation of Constitutional law" - by Huntsmans obvious INTENT to discredit, and garner voter-distrust, towards Governor Romney. Thus by making these comments, Huntsman is presenting HIS OWN "litmus TEST" to the American public - and demeaning the qualifications of Governor Romney to be President. This is immoral, unethical, and since it violates the intent of the Constitution - it is ILLEGAL.

    As a result, I do not see how anyone could vote for Jon Huntsman since he has NO RESPECT for the law, or fellow Republicns - and is willing to say ANYTHING in an attempt to elevate his standing in the debates.

    I hope ANDERSON COOPER does not dote on this issue of religion, which is so richly researched and explained in this news story - as WHY IT MUST NOT BE AN ISSUE.

    Lets find a person who can lead us out of this economic mess we are in. DO NOT THROW INSULTS and vote-getting BS around for the purpose of demeaning a presidential candidate.

    If anyone wants a person of a SPECIFIC religion as president, vote for who you want. BUT, it would seem that the majority of U.S. citizens do NOT see religion as a problem - otherwise how did all those men of "other religions" get elected?

    Any concern about a President's religion could also be applied to our current President, who has said he is a Christian - yet has shown his ISLAMIC roots, and even speaks (has spoken in) the ISLAMIC tongue on a few occasions (e.g., while he was in INDONESIA).

    So leave religion out of these debates, and listen to their qualifications. Thank you, very much!