Mormons are big news now, with possibly two presidential candidates.
Recent polls show former Massachusetts Gov., Mitt Romney, beating Barack Obama. And now former Utah governor and ambassador to China, Jon Huntsman, is flirting with his own run for the presidency.
Both stories put the subject of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the spotlight. Both men are Mormons. And both men are Republicans. And the Republican Party is chocked full of born again, evangelical Christians who have been known to be hostile to Mormons.
But the fact is that the GOP landscape is changing. And that's why Romney is the front-runner and Huntsman is willing to spend some time and money to take a look. It is not so much that evangelicals are receding, if anything there is a further coalescing of their numbers within the GOP.
The Democratic Party is now losing the few, liberal, white born-again voters it had. The change is in the attitude of evangelicals toward Mormons.
Mark DeMoss, Ralph Reed, and other evangelical leaders are showing the way as many are finally coming to appreciate the Mormon ethic. How can you ignore the fact that Utah, which is 70 percent Mormon is annually declared the best place to raise a child in the country?
It has the lowest child poverty rate. And while it has the highest birth rate it has the lowest number of teen pregnancies and out-of-wedlock births. Comparing Utah to the rest of the nation is like comparing the United States to the Third World. Outside of Utah, 33 percent of all children in America are now born to unmarried parents. Utah is an island of American traditional values in practice.
While the American educational system continues in free fall, the high school graduation rates in Utah are astronomical. Utah spends a larger percentage of state dollars on education than any other in the nation.
Likewise, Self magazine labels Provo, Utah as the No. 1 healthiest city in for women. Stats on married members of the Latter Day Saints show that the divorce rate is 13 percent for any couple married for five years. Two of the other Republican candidates for president, favored by many evangelical leaders, have eight marriages between them.
Nor is Utah bad for men. It has the nation's lowest rates of cancer and heart disease. It has the lowest amount of work days missed. It has the lowest per capita rate of people in prison. And it is highest in the nation in charitable giving by the wealthy. According to Newsweek, Utah is first in the U.S. in households with personal computers.
The biggest surprise in Mormon-evangelical rapprochement has been theological and the shared "born again" experience. Now, 56.7 percent of all members describe themselves as "born again Christians." It is almost the exact number of Baptists.
There are big differences to be sure. Romney is having to take anti-Mormon bias into his plans.
The Salt Lake City convention bureau still says no to large evangelical Christian conventions regardless of the money they would bring to the city. But the climate is ready for a Mitt Romney or Jon Huntsman to win.
The great Democrat alliances of the 1940s forced establishment Protestants to take in Irish and Italian Catholics, most of them immigrants. The differences were deep, with language and food as well as religion helping to create the wedge. But the alliance was made and the political maps were forever redrawn because if it.
The Republican challenge is to unite the electoral rich South, with its evangelical base, with the West, where small but powerful Mormons are organized. On paper it should be an easy task. And if it is effectively concluded it will provide the base that the Republicans need.
To win they must take Ohio or Missouri or Pennsylvania or other border states. But even then, they cannot afford to see Nevada or Arizona or another "Mormon" state slip away behind their back.
Evangelicals and Mormons are learning to their dismay, that they cannot win without the other. They must do more than get along. They must work together or kiss their "traditional values" and their way of life good-bye.
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