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Ready for Romney?

Sunday, April 15, 2007

A MORMON IN THE WHITE HOUSE?

10 Things Every American Should Know About Mitt Romney

By Hugh Hewitt

Regnery. 311 pp. $27.95

Mitt Romney's reported haul of $21 million in the first three months of this year has cemented his place among the top tier of Republican presidential candidates, but are the GOP and the nation really ready for a Mormon nominee? A November 2006 Rasmussen poll indicated that as many as 43 percent of Americans said they wouldn't even consider voting for a Mormon president, a hurdle Romney will have to clear if he hopes to survive primaries in places such as South Carolina, where anti-Mormon sentiment is strong.

With this book, the conservative pundit and talk-radio host Hugh Hewitt becomes the candidate's de facto apologist-in-chief on matters of faith. Though not officially tied to Romney's campaign, Hewitt seems enamored of the former governor known in Massachusetts as Matinee Mitt. If Americans could accept the Catholic John F. Kennedy as president in 1960 and the Jewish Joseph I. Lieberman as the Democratic vice-presidential nominee in 2000, Hewitt argues, why not Romney in 2008?

As a Mormon myself, I was curious to see how Hewitt -- a non-Mormon who became intrigued with the faith after working on a 1996 PBS documentary -- would approach my religion. Overall, I'd say he gives Mormonism a fair shake, although his reporting on church doctrine and history is incomplete. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' relative newness and obscurity leave many Americans suspicious about its central tenets, and Hewitt does little to dispel stereotypes. He also fails to thoroughly consider many of the specific points of pressure Romney could face as he runs the presidential gauntlet, such as racism from past Mormon leaders, and shies away from the more troublesome aspects of Mormon history, such as polygamy and the theocratic tendencies of the faith's second leader, Brigham Young.

Despite these limitations, Hewitt is often astute about examining the "Mormon issue" from a range of angles, including a pointed warning that Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) might resort to anti-Mormon bigotry if he became desperate. Hewitt also quotes an evangelical Protestant religion professor who claims that voting for a Mormon president "could be a sin." Hewitt warns mainstream Christians that this sort of anti-Mormon rhetoric could backfire someday if one of their own seeks office and faces assaults from secularists. Nor does he target only Romney's foes on the right; he quotes secular writers who've criticized the rationality of Romney's faith and argues that such attacks are un-American.

The book is also replete with swipes at the national press corps. Indeed, Hewitt blames many of Romney's problems on the "scribbling classes," which Hewitt says hate Romney's "traditional values" and envy his venture-capitalist wealth. Many journalists won't buy that; political reporters will bristle further at Hewitt's extraordinary suggestion that, now that he's written the definitive work on Romney's faith, any future questions about the candidate's Mormonism amount to rehashed prejudice.

-- Carrie Sheffield is a staff writer for the Politico.

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