It was only a matter of time before Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith became an issue in the race to find a Republican challenger to take on Barack Obama for the White House next year.
At an event promoting Romney’s principal rival, Texas Governor Rick Perry, Rev. Pastor Robert Jeffress described the religion — which has around 5.5m American followers — as “a cult…outside the basic teachings of Christianity”.
Jeffress, a highly influential evangelical preacher based in Dallas, went on to accuse Romney of lacking “consistency on social issues”; a reference to the Massachusetts Governor’s perceived liberalism with regards to gay rights, abortion and stem-cell research.
Although Perry himself was quick to dismiss the comments, there is no question that many conservative GOP voters are uneasy with Romney’s religious affiliation. In a recent poll conducted by CBS News, 42 per cent of white evangelicals said that “most people they knew would not consider voting for a Mormon”. This could present a real danger to Romney’s chances of winning the nomination, not least because this constituency accounted for nearly half of all voters in the 2008 Republican primaries.
But even if he successfully persuades registered Republicans to back him over Perry, Romney may come up against a further obstacle in a national campaign against President Obama. Another poll carried out by Lawrence Research in California suggested that one fifth of all voters in the US would not cast their ballots in favour of a Mormon candidate.