New book says anti-LDS bias led to Romney's downfall

The Salt Lake Tribune/September 3, 2008

Mitt Romney's presidential campaign exposed an undercurrent of anti-Mormon bigotry in this country, mostly coming from the religious right, LDS historian Craig Foster argues in a new book published this week.

Foster, who has studied historic anti-Mormon pamphlets and tracts, acknowledges that several factors - including Romney's own changing positions, his aloofness and his image as a wealthy elitist - contributed to his loss. But he also believes religion played a huge role.

"Romney's campaign was burdened by a piece of baggage that he would not and could not throw off and which he could not explain in a way the electorate could understand: his Mormonism," Foster writes in the conclusion of A Different God? Mitt Romney, the Religious Right and the Mormon Question. "[It] became his Achilles' heel. It attracted a phenomenal amount of scrutiny and comment, and Romney's strategy of first, refusing to discuss it, and second, of trying to translate it into terms acceptable to Evangelicals, simply fell flat."

Foster offers numerous examples of what he sees as religious bigotry, starting with polls, revealing how many Americans would not vote for a Mormon - from 43 percent in November 2006 to 30 percent in May 2007.

He describes media bias, noting a Pew Forum report that 35 percent of all religion-related campaign stories between January 2007 and April 2008 focused on Romney; only 4 percent looked at Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.

"It's been nearly half a century since our political journalism has witnessed anything quite as breath-takingly noxious and offensive as the current attempt to discredit the former Massachusetts' governor for his faith," Foster quotes Tim Rutten of The Los Angeles Times as saying.

On the whole, journalists covering Romney's campaign who called the headquarters of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints "were not as knowledgeable about Mormon history and doctrine," LDS spokeswoman Kim Farah told Foster. "There [were] probably more negative than positive articles as a result of the campaign."

But Foster reserves his most detailed criticism for the religious right, especially Huckabee supporters. Foster believes anti-Mormon sentiment fueled Huckabee's win in Iowa, the beginning of the end for Romney in a state he was predicted to win.

This spring a group of Evangelicals launched a "No Mitt VP" campaign, and, according to Fox News reporter Molly Henneberg, many of the signers were Huckabee supporters.

Though many Evangelicals denied Romney's Mormonism was an issue, columnist Robert Novak in October 2007 noted that everywhere he went Romney's religious affiliation was cited "as the source of opposition to his candidacy."

Foster has captured many of the highlights of Romney's campaign as it wrestled with how to deal with his Mormon faith. The full text of Romney's "religion" speech in December 2007 is printed in the appendix.

Though Foster's perspective is not original, Romney "addicts" will enjoy his detailed descriptions and analysis of the 18-month ride with one of their own in the national spotlight.

The book also will provide an important base of information for Romney's future political plans. Though Romney now says he's not interested in a cabinet level position or a 2012 run at the presidency, Foster feels certain Romney will try again.

"The American nation," Foster writes, "has not seen the last Romney campaign."

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