Washington Prowler

Mormonism in the Spotlight

Mitt Romney's candidacy creates concerns and opportunities.

By 12.17.06

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The Salt Lake City-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is growing increasingly concerned about the public-perception hit the presidential candidacy of Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney may have on the Mormon Church.

That's one reason the church is looking at what is being called a "public education" campaign that could reach a budget in the tens of millions in media buys for TV, radio and print.

"There is an expectation that some of the church's more archaic traditions and obscure points of history will become more widely publicized by Governor Romney's opponents in an effort to embarrass him and raise doubts about his faith in the minds of the public," says a New York-based media consultant who has heard buzz of the potential campaign.

Already, the Mormon Church runs a series of radio ads about family issues that are branded as messages from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. There is also a small TV campaign that runs occasionally highlighting the church and some of its faith-based publications.

But the current campaign is of a different sort, one that would be high profile in as much as the church would be openly discussing and clarifying points of the Mormon faith that have long been either misunderstood or misreported.

One individual said to be concerned about the Romney effect on the church is Sen. Harry Reid, who although a Mormon is so socially liberal in his positions that few people outside of Washington beyond his Nevada constituents are aware of that he even belongs to an organized church.

"Reid doesn't want to have to explain his faith in any greater detail than he already has," says a political consultant in Washington who works with Democrats in the Senate. "If someone could do it for him, I think he'd be relieved."

But this campaign may not be simply about educating the American people about what many people consider an odd faith. Sources say that initial spending on the campaign would most likely be focused on media outlets in six geographic areas: Washington, D.C., New York, Los Angeles, Iowa, South Carolina, and Michigan.

"Remember, this isn't just about the church's image. This about Governor Romney's image, too," says the political consultant. "I think increasingly the two are becoming bound together."

Any advertising campaign targeted in that way would almost assuredly come under review by the Federal Election Commission and perhaps by the Internal Revenue Service, due to the church's tax exempt status.

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