Both Mormon presidential wannabes showed up at Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition (FFC) confab in Washington and managed to let the white evangelicals in the audience know who they were without actually using the M-word. After beginning his talk with a litany of anti-abortionism, former Utah governor Jon Huntsman gave a big shout-out to the people of his state and to the magnificence of its super well-run government and super prosperity, perhaps not realizing that nothing annoys white evangelicals more than having to acknowledge the kempt successes of Mormon lives and communities.
As for Mitt Romney, he began by noting that there “we’re united tonight in a lotta things,” which is to say, there’s that thing that we’re not united in, that bit me in the butt last time around. Before that, there was his youthful wife Ann, who introduced her husband by mentioning her 16 grandchildren. Sixteen?? And what about your sister wives?
Yes, the emergence of the FFC (which may or may not become a readily identifiable acronym) has provoked a spate of familiar talk about whether or not those pesky evangelicals will support a Mormon for president. Helpfully, Pew came out with a new survey last Thursday that provides some insight into the question. Amy Sullivan rings the changes on it; cutting to the chase, nothing much has changed from four years ago, when one-third of evangelicals said they would be less likely to vote for a Mormon–way more than any other religious group. Less helpfully, Pew doesn’t present a simple cross-tabulation showing which candidates white evangelical Republicans like in the current GOP field–something that’s done for Tea Partiers. C’mon, Pew!
If the question at hand is whether white evangelicals are going to sink a Mormon candidacy in the GOP primaries, then what we want to know is whom they’re going to vote for, whether or not they say they’re “less likely” to vote for a Mormon. At this point, according to Pew, Romney has the highest name recognition of any candidate in the field other than Palin and Gingrich, and whereas 39 percent and 38 percent of GOP voters who recognize the latter two say they wouldn’t vote for them, as Amy notes, only 18 percent who recognize Mitt say they wouldn’t vote for him–lowest in the entire field (tied with the relatively unknown but currently hot Herman Cain). So while there is a high correlation between those who say they’re less likely to vote for a Mormon and those who say they won’t vote for Mitt Romney, that doesn’t add up to big negatives. Maybe evangelical anti-Mormonism will be no biggie, this time around.