Mormons Back Romney — in Iowa


By: Wall Street Journal

Support Could Give Presidential Hopeful An Edge in Close Race
By ELIZABETH HOLMES

BETTENDORF, Iowa — Pam Garner brought two of her four children and some homemade mint-chocolate-chip cookies to a town-hall meeting here last week with Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney. Afterward, she offered up a list of reasons she was supporting the former governor of Massachusetts, including his stance in favor of family values and against big government.

With her 1-year-old daughter tugging at a Romney sticker on her shirt, Mrs. Garner, 32 years old, said she didn’t have any issues with Mr. Romney’s Mormon religion. When asked what faith she was, she laughed and said, “His.”

The spotlight in the Republican race for Iowa has been on the evangelical vote mobilizing behind former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a former Baptist minister. But in his bid to hold on to the first caucus state, Mr. Romney can count on another strong, albeit silent, religious bloc: his fellow Mormons.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints says it has more than 22,500 members in Iowa in 68 congregations. Joseph Cheney, the president of one of seven “stakes,” or geographical groups within the church, estimates that as many as 7,000 Mormons are likely to show up on caucus night, and that nearly three-quarters of the Mormons in the state support Mr. Romney.

That isn’t enough to compete with the 500,000 Iowa evangelicals, or about a quarter of the voting-adult population, according to the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. But in a tight race, the Iowa Mormon vote could give Mr. Romney an edge.

The Mormon vote has a small but strong presence in other early-voting states as well. The LDS church, which has about 8,000 members in New Hampshire and 34,300 in South Carolina, doesn’t endorse a candidate or allow politics to be discussed at church activities.

Their leaders emphasize the need to be active, voting members of a community. “The church does encourage the members to go and exercise their right to vote,” said Mr. Cheney.

Iowa’s Mormon population is spread throughout the state. There are higher concentrations in urban areas, especially the far western part of the state near Omaha, Mr. Cheney said. The southeastern corner of the state, intersecting with Illinois and Missouri, also has ties to the church. Across the river from Iowa is Nauvoo, Ill., a small town to which Mormon founder Joseph Smith fled in 1839.

Nearly every Romney campaign event has members of the candidate’s faith in attendance. Kathy Dzado, a 58-year-old from Marion, brought her husband and son out to a holiday party that the Romney campaign organized last week. She was surprised to see other people from her church, part of the Cedar Rapids stake, at the event. “We never talk about politics, ever. No one would dare bring it up,” said Mrs. Dzado, who was raised Catholic but later converted to Mormonism.

Few say they are supporting Mr. Romney because of his faith but rather cite his emphasis on the family or other conservative values. They ramble off a bullet-point resume and reveal the connection with their faith only when asked.

“I like what he’s done for the state of Massachusetts,” said 75-year-old Robert Doty, an Iowa resident and a Mormon who lived 21 years of his life in Michigan. “He has integrity,” chimed in Mr. Doty’s wife, Thelma, 72. Mr. Doty said the majority of his LDS congregation is in favor of Mr. Romney, though one younger member likes Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Mr. Romney isn’t actively courting members of his faith. He doesn’t seem to have to. Although he had very little national name recognition when he announced his candidacy, Mr. Romney was already well-known within the LDS community, particularly after he ran the 2002 Olympic Games in Salt Lake City. “They knew him very well before he ever became a candidate for president,” said Mr. Cheney.

This summer, 24-year-old Ashley Cena and her husband, Lorenzo, saw Mr. Romney and his wife at church in Ames. Mrs. Cena didn’t say anything, although she rushed home to call her family in California. “I called my parents and told them, ‘Guess who we sat next to in church today?’” said Mrs. Cena.

Mormon support could aid Mr. Romney in primaries in some of the Feb. 5 Super Tuesday states as well. Scott Findley and his wife, Emily, are avid supporters of Mr. Romney and plan to support him in the Illinois primary that day. They planned their 25-hour holiday road trip from their Illinois home to Idaho with their three small children in the hopes of catching Mr. Romney in Iowa. “We told ourselves, if we set foot in Iowa, we’re going to drive wherever we have to to see the governor speak,” said Mr. Findley.

Write to Elizabeth Holmes at elizabeth.holmes@wsj.com

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