Whoever said that old rivals can't eventually become friends? In 2008, Arizona Sen. John McCain and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney attacked one another incessantly, as each sought out the GOP presidential ticket. Now, just four years later, the former foes are working together. Interestingly, while in Florida attempting to help Romney win Tuesday's primary, McCain offered his theory about one of the elements that impacted the former governor in the South Carolina primary -- his membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
In an interview with Real Clear Politics, McCain said there was little Romney could do to stem some of the bias he saw as a result of the candidate's faith. Although McCain admitted that the campaign hadn't yet done hard-hitting analysis, he maintained that Mormonism did, indeed, play a roll in Romney's South Carolina loss.
"We haven’t had time to do a real analysis of the Romney race in South Carolina, but once we break that down, there was some element of anti-Mormonism in that vote," McCain said. "I’m not saying all of it, but there were elements there."
This was a bold claim, as was the senator's statement following it that, "There was nothing that Mitt Romney could have done." The conversation didn't end here though. The former 2008 GOP frontrunner was asked if this potential anti-Mormon bias could extend to other states as well.
"I’m not sure [but] I don’t think so," McCain said, as he went on to point to Georgia as one example of a state where he doesn't believe Romney's faith will count against him.
The Huffington Post highlighted South Carolina exit polls earlier this month that did show some intriguing statistics about voters who care strongly about candidates' beliefs:
Exit polls show that 43 percent of voters who said that the candidates' religious beliefs mattered "a great deal" went for Gingrich. Only 9 percent went for Romney -- a lower percentage than he netted overall, where he is running in second. In contrast, of voters who said the religious beliefs of candidates didn't matter to them at all, Romney won 42 percent.
As you may recall, following Romney's South Carolina loss, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee reiterated his belief that Mormonism shouldn't be an issue for voters. That being said, he went on to say that Romney should address his faith in "a very calm and thoughtful way."
In assessing the alleged anti-Mormonism in South Carolina, though, HotAir's Allah Pundit has some interesting counter points and poll numbers that may cast doubt on McCain's theory:
On January 16, just five days before the primary, Rasmussen had Romney up by 14 points. The Fox News debate with the exchange between Newt and Juan Williams was held that night; two days later, Politico’s new poll found Romney’s lead cut in half. That was the last poll in which Gingrich trailed. Other polls taken on the 18th showed him leading Romney narrowly and then, after the CNN debate on the 19th in which he unloaded on John King, his numbers took off and he ended up winning by 13 points. Was anti-Mormonism a major contributing factor to a 27-point swing in five days even though no one of any significance was talking about Romney’s faith? Seriously?
In the end, the jury may be out still regarding how important Romney's faith is to voters, but as we've noted in an extensive review of polls and current standings, Mormonism is not expected to impact the candidate much in the general election.
(H/T: Real Clear Politics)