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How Mormonism is playing a role on Election Day

By Washington Post Staff,

In an election dominated by the economy, Mitt Romney’s Morman background has mostly remained a non-issue. Similarly, many Mormons don’t feel a strong attachment to the Republican candidate simply because of his faith. According to Michelle Boorstein:

Sure, there will be celebrating or mourning among Mormons who describe themselves as political conservatives (which is to say, most of them). But most members of Mitt Romney’s faith won’t even be at results-watching events; church officials are barely acknowledging Tuesday’s vote (the top item on the LDS Web site says: “members invited to share the gospel through magazine subscriptions”); and even at the Northwest D.C. Mormon church a President Romney would attend, regular weekly classes are all that’s scheduled Tuesday night.

I’ve interviewed many Mormons in recent weeks about the campaign (and the previous Romney campaign in 2008, when the media-declared Mormon Moment began), and their views on what has been a historic period for Mormonism sound remarkably unaffected. Despite growing up in a period when the word “cult” is the one most associated with Mormonism, Mormons largely downplay what a big deal Romney’s race (and win, or loss) has been.

They are unlikely, despite supporting him in massive numbers, to say his faith has anything to do with their attraction to him, instead talking about his morals or his thriftiness or what a great job he did with the Olympics. They say they don’t think Americans ultimately cared much about Romney’s Mormonism, and they say they won’t see a Romney win or loss as a referendum on their shared faith.

“Heavens no,” Jared Whitley, a 34-year-old Mormon government relations worker from Arlington said when asked if he’ll take it personally whether Romney wins or loses. Whitley moved from Salt Lake City to Washington in 2005 specifically in hopes of working for candidate Romney for the 2008 race and has been a supporter since. “I think the questions around his faith have already been explored,” he said.

This response is revealing about Mormon culture, which is guarded due to prejudice and insularity and very into what people characterize as modesty. While many Americans (including us in the media) see Romney’s almost total halt in discussion of his faith as at least in good part political calculation, many Mormons see someone not bragging.

“I respect that” Romney didn’t speak much about his faith in the 2012 race, said John Mason, 52, a general contractor and a Mormon from Fairfax County. “You hate to toot your own horn when it comes to such service. And having served as a bishop and stake president, Romney would have much to toot his horn about.”

This reserved attitude seems to supercede even Mormon lore, which includes a story many Mormons tell that their founders believed one day the U.S. Constitution would hang by a thread and be saved by the Mormon church. Asked if 2012 is that moment, Mormons typically chuckle and start talking about how they like their reputation as hard-working, patriotic and loyal.

In fact, some Mormons will even be voting against Romney. Joanna Brooks writes:

Mormon women honor the religion we share with Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. But on Election Day, thousands and thousands of us will cast our votes in support of President Obama.

As a writer who has followed closely the role of faith in this campaign, I have witnessed how progressive Mormon women are finding their voices in this historic moment. A week ago, I took to the Internet to ask Mormon women who support Obama to share how their faith informs their vote. I heard from stay-at-home mothers, nurses, lawyers, hairstylists, and college professors, women with children small and grown, white women and women of color, from California to New Hampshire—and in key states like Nevada, Colorado, and Florida.

Andrea Pratt Rediske, 41, freelance writer in Orlando: “My faith teaches me that motherhood is a sacred responsibility, and I am the mother of a severely disabled 10-year-old who has the cognitive ability of a 6-month-old. My son is ‘invisible’ to society--he is too medically fragile to attend school, church, or even go to the grocery store. He has no voice except mine, and I continually battle profit-driven insurance companies to meet his medical needs. No mother should have to choose between health care for her children and the other necessities of life. No one should have to go bankrupt because they get sick, or have a disabled child. I am a Mormon woman who supports Barack Obama because of the Affordable Health Care Act. ”

Kari Earl Short, 36, writer and stay-at-home mother in Las Vegas: “My family’s roots in the Mormon church run as deep as the Romneys’. But Mitt Romney and his plans for America are foreign to my faith values. He has shown behind closed doors how he truly feels about our nation’s poor and vulnerable, while Obama has sought to protect social programs, foreign aid, and real healthcare protections for those who desperately need it. I am an LDS woman proudly voting for Barack Obama.”

The topic of Romney’s religious background has been resurrected in recent days as a 2007 video of Romney debating his Mormon faith with radio talk show host (off-ari) has been making its rounds on the internet:

The video, which has become an Internet sensation in the closing days of his campaign to unseat President Obama, shows Romney sparring off-air with an Iowa radio talk show host over the tenets and beliefs of Mormonism — including a discussion of abortion and the second coming of Jesus Christ — and scolding the interviewer for bringing it up.

“I don’t like coming on the air and having you go after my church and me,” Romney told Jan Mickelson, the host of a popular conservative show on WHO-AM in Des Moines, in the August 2007 encounter as he was seeking the 2008 GOP nomination. “I’m not running as a Mormon, and I get a little tired of coming on shows like yours and having it all about Mormon.”

The identity of the YouTube user who posted a portion of the interview Wednesday was not clear, but by early Sunday the video had been viewed more than 1.2 million times, even though other versions had been available online for five years.

Many of those spreading the video were liberals, such as Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen, who retweeted the link twice and called it “MUST SEE TV.”

A spokeswoman for Romney’s campaign declined to comment, as did a church spokesman. Romney has said in the past that he didn’t know he was being filmed during the discussion after his official interview, claiming that he was taped on a “hidden camera.”

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