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Romney, Huntsman face challenge of winning over evangelicals

The chances for Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman Jr. could be hurt by their Mormon faith, but other issues may trump religion at primary election time.

September 06, 2011|By Robin Abcarian, Los Angeles Times

Romney said he could never disavow his Mormon faith but would not allow his church to influence his decisions as president. As to the nature of his faith, he said, "I believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God and the savior of mankind. My church's beliefs about Christ may not all be the same as those of other faiths. Each religion has its own unique doctrines and history."

During that campaign, Romney was subjected to the political shenanigans for which South Carolina is infamous. Many evangelical GOP voters received Christmas cards purporting to be from Romney, with controversial verses from the Book of Mormon. He has visited South Carolina only once this time around, while Huntsman has been twice.

Huntsman, at a news conference in July at a high-tech automotive research facility here, said he didn't think voters would resist him based on his faith.

"Campaigns are tough and you've got to face a little bit of head wind from time to time," he said, "but I don't think religion is going to be a deal-breaker."

It is possible that high-profile endorsements from prominent evangelicals could help overcome voter resistance to a Mormon presidential candidate.

Bob Jones III, grandson of the founder of Bob Jones University in Greenville and currently its chancellor, endorsed Romney in the 2008 primary. At the time, he feared that two pro-abortion-rights candidates might face each other in the general election — former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and then-New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Despite the official anti-Mormon — and anti-Catholic — stances embraced by Bob Jones University, Jones was straightforward:

"As a Christian, I am completely opposed to the doctrines of Mormonism," he said at the time. "But I'm not voting for a preacher. I'm voting for a president."

The endorsement did not seem to make much difference. Romney barely campaigned in the state and finished a dismal fourth.

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