President Barack Obama’s advisers consider former governor Mitt Romney (R-MA) their most likely opponent in 2012, according to Ben Smith and Johnathan Martin of Politico. And so, in the words of one anonymous Democratic strategist, they are going to try to “kill” him by borrowing the tactics used by then-President George W. Bush (R) against Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) in 2004: portray him as waffling and “inauthentic” and, in an oft-used word, “weird.”
Why weird? Martin and Smith offer one explanation:
None of the Obama advisers interviewed made any suggestion that Romney’s personal qualities would be connected to his minority Mormon faith, but the step from casting Romney as a bit off to raising questions about religion may not be a large step for some of the incumbent’s supporters.
It’s not the first time Romney has faced questions about his faith from his political opponents: during the last presidential campaign, Sen. John McCain’s (R-AZ) staff was wont to make mention of it particularly often. It became a big enough issue that Romney himself addressed his religious beliefs in a speech in late 2007 that tied his own difficulties to those faced by then-Sen. John F. Kennedy during his own Presidential run.
And, polls show that the tactic has the potential to be effective: a June 2011 Quinnipiac poll shows that 36 percent of voters pronounced themselves “somewhat uncomfortable” or “entirely uncomfortable” with a Mormon presidential candidate — a level of discomfort trumped only by potential atheist or Muslim candidates. Only 25 percent of the electorate says that their religion and Mormonism are “very” or “somewhat” similar, in a country in which 76 percent of the population self-identifies as Christian. Worse yet for Romney, fully 32 percent of voters say they have an unfavorable view of the religion in general.
Quinnipiac’s Peter A. Brown said, “It appears that the American people — especially Democrats — have many more questions about a Mormon in the White House than they do about followers of other religions,” based on the data that showed far higher unfavorables among Democratic voters (38%) than Republicans (31%) or independents (26%).
But, while that leaves Romney’s faith a tempting target for political strategists, the question is whether voters who elected a President who once promised to bring a new type of politics to Washington will accept a campaign as personal as the one outlined to Politico — let alone one that winks at religious intolerance as a way to win the race.