That belief, known among Mormons as the White Horse Prophesy, is officially rejected by the church and has fueled anti-Mormon conspiracy theories that Romney would work to establish a theocracy. The vast majority of Mormons here shared the more familiar pride and apprehension that any minority group on the brink of attaining the presidency might experience.
“He comes from pioneer stock. His grandfather moved to Mexico for the same reason my wife’s grandfather moved to Mexico,” Temple volunteer Jawin Westover, 70, proudly pointed out. (Romney’s ancestors fled to Mexico to practice polygamy.) Under the temple spires, Westover watched as five sets of brides and grooms posed for pictures and blond children climbed over statues of Smith. “It’s a distinctly American culture and it’s the only country that this could happen in. Here’s a big chance to show the world how great he is and how great his membership is.”
Westover paused to squint and smile in the sun. “But,” he said, “what if things go wrong?
The perception Americans and the world have of the church is the chief concern of the hierarchy in Salt Lake City. In recent years, the church has heavily marketed itself as a multiracial, multicultural and exceedingly Everyman faith. It spent millions on an “I’m a Mormon” ad campaign that appeared on billboards and televisions across the country.
In the lobby outside of the church’s public affairs office, in the ornate Joseph Smith Memorial Building, a wall installation highlights the faces of the “I’m a Mormon” campaign. Inside the office of Michael Otterson, the church’s head of worldwide communications, magazine covers headlined “Mormons” hang on the wall. Since Romney first ran for president in 2007, Otterson’s office has been caught up in the prolonged Mormon Moment.
Otterson said that whether Romney wins the election or not, “it isn’t the moment anyway, this is simply a transition and an evolution to a level of acceptance. I don’t see how you can turn that clock back.” He said that while the church had studiously maintained its political neutrality — and that it would keep its independence and distance “even if there were a Mormon president” — the election had been an important opportunity for the church “to really depict who we are.” In recent weeks Mormon scholars have noticed what they have called a last-ditch effort to use Romney’s religion against him. But Otterson said he hoped a Romney victory would prompt the same celebration of American pluralism that the shattering of other glass ceilings has produced.
Some Mormons have worried that a Republican Mormon president might actually hinder a church whose main objective is branch out to new believers. The hierarchy in Salt Lake is overwhelmingly, but not uniformly, Republican, and except for some notable exceptions, including Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), the large majority of Mormons vote Republican. (Romney’s popularity here was likely to cause a Republican landslide down the ticket.)