COMMENTARY | Mitt Romney still has not technically sealed the Republican Party nomination for 2012. With Rick Santorum suspending his campaign, however, no major Republican opposition is left in Romney’s path. He is assured to be selected as the Republican nominee at the national party convention in August.
This development means one thing is certain. The amount of media attention on Romney’s beliefs and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is going to explode well beyond current levels.
The fact that Romney is a devout Mormon running for President of the United States already garnered plenty of buzz during his failed 2008 Presidential bid. Now he will be the first Mormon nominated by one of the two major parties to run for president. As this historical tidbit unfolds, it is already generating plenty of media buzz.
It is also raising plenty of questions about Mormon beliefs and forcing Romney to confront those beliefs at campaign rallies, town hall meetings and media interviews. Romney faces a dilemma in discussing his faith because of strong feelings that exist against Mormons in the minds of many voters. There is concern from his campaign if identifying too closely to Mormonism will cost him the election,
As recently as January, a national poll revealed that 20 percent of Republicans would not vote for a Mormon for president. 31 percent among the Southern Evangelical wing of the GOP expressed the same opinion. Within his own party, there is clearly a significant amount of opposition against Romney. If those numbers don’t budge, it is enough to make President Barack Obama feel even more confident about his re-election prospects.
It is certain to be rough sailing ahead over the next few months for Romney and his faith. MSNBC talk show host Lawrence O’ Donnell fired the first shot with his bigoted comments about the origins of the LDS Church in a televised attack on Romney. O’Donnell later offered a feeble apology for his remarks. His tirade will likely not stand out in the weeks ahead as a chorus of other anti-Mormon comments flow from other commentators desperate to keep any Mormon out of the nation’s highest office.
As difficult as it will be to face up to an outpouring of criticism laced with inaccurate information, this is a perfect time for both Romney and Mormons to use the spotlight to their advantage. Romney can use questions about his faith as an opportunity to define his values in the minds of voters and shake off his flip-flop reputation. The LDS Church can take the national focus and use it as a missionary tool to educate others what its faith really teaches.
The emerging national Mormon obsession will likely decide Romney’s fate in November.