Many say they are convinced that suspicion about their little-known religion has at least partially prevented him from cementing his front-runner status. And they neither want to draw negative attention to their faith or hurt his chances for the presidency.
“Romney seems to have a kind of ceiling, and I think it’s from a fear that he might be too tied to the church,” said Walt Tranmer, 71, as he left the bookstore on a recent morning. “It’s too bad that kind of animosity still exists.”
On Tuesday, when Arizona Republicans hold their presidential primary, Mormons are expected to turn out in large numbers and give Romney an edge.
In 2008, Mormons made up about 11 percent of the Republican primary electorate, according to exit polls. Though they are not a large group nationally — about 2 percent of the U.S. population — they are overwhelmingly conservative and are more likely to vote than other groups.
Their influence helped push the former Massachusetts governor to a major victory earlier this month in Nevada, another state with a large number of Mormon voters. About 95 percent of the Mormon voters in that state’s GOP caucus backed Romney, exit polls show.
Several other Western states also have sizable Mormon populations, including Idaho and Utah, the seat of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, (LDS) as it is formally known.
Mormon voters say they are keenly aware that Romney’s association with the church, could be a hindrance, especially as he tries to win over evangelical voters, some of whom do not accept that Mormons are Christians.
“I think members know that there’s enough mistrust out there that they’re a little concerned to start up a group called Mormons for Mitt,” said Scott Gordon, founder of MormonVoices.org, a nonprofit that addresses misconceptions about Mormonism.
But he added: “When you run into people in church they say, ‘Gee, did you see how Mitt did?’ He definitely has a cheering section.”
While “LDS for Ron Paul” groups have sprouted up for the Texas congressman, no such organizations exist for Romney. The church itself has aggressively asserted its neutrality in the race and even has taken pains to make sure its “I’m a Mormon” billboards were not erected in early-primary states, a church spokesman said.
Romney himself has been circumspect about his religion this year. During his first run for president four years ago, he made a sweeping speech about his faith, hoping to allay concerns over it. This year he has emphasized that Jesus Christ is his “personal savior” and said more generically that he is proud of his “faith.”