Many Mormons back Romney, but say it's not just faithby Curtis Gilbert, Minnesota Public Radio
Minnesota's 28,000 Mormons are probably watching Tuesday's Michigan presidential primary more closely than most Minnesotans. Michigan is seen as key for former Gov. Mitt Romney, R-Mass., who would be America's first Mormon president if he makes it to the White House. What does Romney's candidacy mean to Minnesota Mormons?
St. Paul, Minn. — It is not hard to find Mormons who are backing Mitt Romney. It is a lot harder to find any who say Romney's faith is the main thing that motivates them. Vicki Reid, a 56-year-old Republican living in Medina, comes about as close as you are likely to find.
"I guess one of the major considerations after looking at all the other candidates was the fact that he is a member of our church," Reid says. "I guess the fact that there are people who say that they will not vote for a Mormon for president bothers me."
Reid points to a poll last year in which 29 percent of Republicans said they would not vote for a Mormon presidential candidate. She wants to counteract that bias, which she thinks former Arkansas Governor and ordained Baptist Minister Mike Huckabee exploited as he courted Evangelical Christians in Iowa. Huckabee's campaign bothered Janet Keller, too.
"Well I can tell you who I'm not considering," Keller says. "I'm not a Huckabee supporter."
Keller cannot imagine why anyone would think the presidency should be off-limits to Mormons "who try to live good lives based on Christian values, who believe in family, good education -- we are a very well-educated people -- and what is wrong with that?" She asks. "There is nothing that the church stands for that would not be exemplary in the president of the United States!"
That said, Janet Keller also thinks it would be ridiculous to vote for Romney just because he is a Mormon. She is thinking about supporting him, but she might go for former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani instead.
Tex Ostvig, who lives in Orono and calls himself an independent, is another Mormon who has not yet made up his mind. He likes Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., and he likes Romney, too.
Like the others, Ostvig says he would never vote for a candidate based solely on religion. But he does think shared faith can be one indication of shared values.
"I know within our doctrine, and our beliefs and our teachings, that [Romney] is right in line with a lot of the same things that I have, especially when it comes to family, when it comes to hard work, when it comes all the different things that come in as far as being productive citizens."
A 2001 study from the City University of New York found that nationwide 55 percent of Mormons identify themselves as Republicans. Only 14 percent called themselves Democrats. The church itself makes a point of not endorsing candidates or political parties.
Jan Shipps, a professor and the author of "Mormonism: The Story of a New Religious Tradition," has studied Mormon religion and culture for the past 45 years. She says there is a bit more room for political diversity in the Mormon church than in some modern Evangelical Christian sects.
"They're not quite as rigid about abortion," Shipps says. "Although I think they are as rigid about gay marriage. But they don't make it a package in the same way. So identity politics doesn't pull in in the same way."
The Mormon church claims more than 28,000 members in Minnesota -- many fewer than Catholics, Lutherans and even those who say they have "no religion." But it is a safe bet that Minnesota Mormons will be following Romney's fate in Michigan on Tuesday a little closer than most other Minnesotans, whether they are supporting him or not.
- All Things Considered, 01/15/2008, 6:20 p.m.