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Presidential hopefuls Huntsman, Romney share Mormonism and belief in themselves

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"Huntsman started putting distance between himself and the church when he was still in office," said Quin Monson, a political science professor at BYU. He added that Mormons identified much more with Romney, who took a punch for the religion when he gave his speech defending Mormonism. "Huntsman won't give that speech."

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Back in the basement of the BYU library, Jake Frandsen, 27, handed out leaflets for a symposium on Mormon missionary work, "Go Ye Into All the World." He said people around the university and church were talking about how Huntsman's secular turn might be an effort to cast the devout Romney as "scary."

"I understand why some people are bothered by it," said Frandsen, who said he preferred to keep religion and politics separate. "Why play the Mormon card? Even if it's to distance yourself, it's still playing the religion card. Just leave it out."

***

The headquarters of the Huntsman Corp. ("Enriching Lives Through Innovation") sits close to the This Is the Place Monument in Emigration Canyon, where Mormon tradition holds that Brigham Young completed the arduous trek of his followers. An inscription greeting visitors in the gleaming lobby reads: "Only a few hundred yards south of this building, the first party of Mormon pioneers entered the Salt Lake Valley on July 24, 1847. A Huntsman forebear and Mormon Apostle, Orson Pratt, led an advance team into the valley on July 21."

Pratt's brother, Parley, a contemporary of Joseph Smith's and one of the church's earliest missionaries, was the great-great-great-grandfather of Huntsman, and the great-great-grandfather of Mitt Romney. In 1885, Romney's great-grandfather Miles Park Romney fled from U.S. authorities who wanted to enforce anti-polygamy laws and, at the direction of church officials, settled a colony for polygamous Mormons in Mexico. During the Mexican Revolution in 1912, the Romneys (including Mitt's father, George, then only 5 years old) returned to the United States. George Romney grew up to become the head of American Motors Corp., the governor of Michigan, a presidential candidate and then a Cabinet member in the Nixon administration.

Huntsman, too, has an epic family history. His mother, Karen, is the daughter of David B. Haight, the former mayor of Palo Alto, Calif., where Huntsman was born in 1960. In 1976, Haight became a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, the church elders who sit in power directly under the presidential council. In 1956, Karen attended the University of Utah, where for two years she roomed with Jane Romney.

"I came out here from California and she came out from Michigan," Karen said, adding that Jane drove out in "a little Nash Rambler," the car George Romney used to help turn around American Motors.

Huntsman's father, Jon Sr., started out making plastic egg cartons and got his break making the polystyrene clamshell packaging for McDonald's Big Macs. Decades of wise acquisitions and innovations have turned his corporation into a chemical giant. In the 1970s, he served as an executive assistant to Richard M. Nixon. He has hosted Margaret Thatcher at his Deer Valley manse and has regularly gone fly-fishing with Dick Cheney. In 1988, he ran for governor of Utah but suddenly dropped out during a private meeting in a church parking lot with Republican Gov. Norm Bangerter.

On Thursday afternoon, as Jon Sr. recovered from a broken rib, his son Peter sat in his father's expansive office. On a coffee table, a Chinese magazine cover framed the beaming faces of Jon Huntsman Jr., his blond wife, Mary Kaye, and the daughter they adopted in China, Gracie. Peter Huntsman joked about the "Mormon mafia" as he showed older photos of Huntsman Sr. with hotel magnates Bill Marriott and his father, John Willard Marriott, after whom Willard Mitt Romney is named.

A family wedding photo shows the Huntsman children and more than 50 grandchildren. In another shot, family members posed in Moscow with former church president Howard Hunter, one of the several Mormon prophets to whom the Huntsman family has made its private planes available. That courtesy, Peter said, continues to this day.

Peter dismissed all the agita about his brother's apparent distancing from the church. Regarding the Fortune interview, Peter clarified that Jon was simply reacting to the reporter's recitation of all his father's high-ranking positions in the church. "The reporter was listing all these titles that he had in the church," said Peter. "And my brother said, 'No, I'm not that religious.' "


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