On Saturday, The New York Times dove into a subject that we have regularly covered on TheBlaze — Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and his The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints membership. There’s no question that evangelical Christians and Mormons have a long history of theological disagreements, the reality of which led the Times to explore the subject, while also highlighting Glenn Beck and his role as a potential bridge between evangelicals and Romney.
Dubbing Beck the nation’s “best-known Mormon” after Romney, the Times also noted that the radio and television host “has emerged as an unlikely theological bridge between the first Mormon presidential nominee and a critical electorate.” This critical electorate, of course, is the evangelical voting cohort — a group (or at least portions of it) that, as noted, has not always received Mormons with open arms.
Of particular note in the article was TheBlaze TV special that Beck hosted in September — an effort to dispel some of the myths that surround the Mormon faith. Considering the decision to air this special (an analysis of the entire program can be found here), the Times highlighted that an ongoing need for Mormons to answer questions about the faith persists. Additionally, the newspaper contended that the decision to defend the denomination “raises the question of whether evangelicals will ultimately put aside religious differences and vote on common conservative issues.”
This is a subject — whether evangelicals will come out en masse for Romney — that TheBlaze has explored in detail numerous times before. As we’ve previously reported, Pew Research Center results from November 2011 found that, while Romney may have experienced some negative results due to his Mormon faith in the primary race, his general election chances likely won’t be impacted. Here’s what Pew had do say during last year’s analysis (prior to Romney securing the nomination):
White evangelical Protestants – a key element of the GOP electoral base – are more inclined than the public as a whole to view Mormonism as a non-Christian faith. And this view is linked to opinions about Romney: Republicans who say Mormonism is not a Christian religion are less likely to support Romney for the GOP nomination and offer a less favorable assessment of him generally. But they seem prepared to overwhelmingly back him in a run against Obama in the general election. [...]
There is no evidence that Romney’s Mormon faith would prevent rank-and-file Republicans, including white evangelicals, from coalescing around him if he wins the GOP nomination. Rather, the same Republicans who may have doubts about Romney’s faith are among the most vehement opponents of Barack Obama. Fully 91% of white evangelical Republican voters say they would back Romney over Obama in a general election matchup, and 79% would support Romney strongly. Overall, white evangelicals would be among the strongest Romney supporters if he is the GOP nominee challenging Obama next fall.
Just one year later, Romney is the nominee and it seems as though he’s slated to gain the support of this important electoral cohort. Still, in a close race, doubts remain, as even a small number of unwilling evangelicals could, indeed, decide the election in key states, specifically if evangelicals choose not to cast a vote for Romney.
While the Times notes that evangelicals are currently supporting the Republican over Obama (76 percent versus 17 percent), capturing the largest proportion of evangelical votes is clearly of paramount importance to Romney. On a more broader note 54 percent of Protestants support Romney, while 39 percent support Obama (results are from a recent Pew study).
As for Beck, the newspaper claims that he has been in a unique position to serve as a bridge between his evangelical fans and Romney, specifically considering his popularity on radio and through TheBlaze TV. With a prime focus on the issues of the day, Beck has held true to his contention that “the truth has no agenda,” often addressing issues and taking stances that align perfectly with the conservative electorate.
Much of the assistance that Beck has purportedly given Romney, the Times claims, is indirect:
Mostly Mr. Beck has helped Mr. Romney by directly addressing his devout Mormon faith, something the candidate himself rarely does. “I believe Mr. Romney prays on his knees every day,” Mr. Beck said recently on his radio program. “I believe he is being guided.” He has also said that a Romney victory would be “a sign from God.”
While some religious leaders still claim that they have doubts about Romney’s faith, Russell D. Moore, dean of the School of Theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, told the Times that Romney’s focus throughout the campaign has been political — not theological.
“I’m frankly surprised and relieved that I don’t see a movement of evangelicals who are waiting to claim Mitt Romney as a brother in Christ,” Moore said, noting his strong views on the theological differences between Mormons and evangelicals. “He’s won over evangelicals politically, not religiously.”
Perhaps Moore’s views best describe the dynamic that is unfolding among evangelical Christians. Despite having initial reservations, a small portion of this cohort has seemingly come around and will, regardless of religious differences, unabashedly support Romney on Tuesday. Wall Street Journal analysis shows that the GOP candidate has strong support nationwide among evangelicals:
Mr. Romney’s support tops 80% nationwide among white evangelicals who are likely to vote, according to combined data from the last two Wall Street Journal/NBC News polls, in late September and early October. That is in line with Mr. Bush’s 78% support in 2004 and a higher share than the 74% who according to exit polls backed the 2008 GOP nominee, Sen. John McCain.
Considering the importance of Ohio, though, Romney has had an uphill battle among this cohort. According to polling last month, Romney was winning 67 percent among white evangelicals there. This is certainly a strong showing, however it could — and should — be stronger, especially considering Ohio’s importance as a swing state that could decide the race.
While his Mormon faith may not be the root cause of the weak level of support, it’s clear that Romney’s team has quite a bit to do to secure evangelicals.