As far as I knew going into this day in my life, the first Presidential primary of any kind was going to take place in just about one year's time. But did you know that even as we speak, a "Mormon primary" is unfolding? I must have missed all of the "Mormon debates," and I have no awareness of how the "Mormon delegates" will be apportioned, but whatever: let's have a "Mormon primary," for some reason.
You see, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney is widely believed to be running for President. And former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman is widely believed to be considering the possibility that he may too run for President. And they are both Mormons! So, naturally, Molly Ball and Jonathan Martin think they see something shiny:
Now their unspoken competition may soon come out in the open in a sort of "Mormon primary" that would pit two popular figures in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints against each other for the Republican presidential nomination.
I'm pretty sure that Romney and Huntsman would also run against a bunch of other people for the Republican presidential nomination. And, in addition, there will be a lot of voters who aren't Mormon who might prefer either of these candidates on the merits. But here's how this "Mormon primary" is likely to play itself out:
The implications for Republicans are stark: Their front-runner, Romney, struggled in his 2008 bid to make gains with the evangelical Christians who play an important role in Republican primaries and saw his religion as exotic, or worse.
The presence of a second Mormon in the race could help Romney by making the church seem less unusual to those who are unfamiliar with it. But it seems just as likely that Huntsman, with his strikingly similar profile, would erode Romney's base of support, reordering the GOP field.
So, the "stark implications" are these: having two Mormons in the race could help Romney, unless it doesn't, in which case it will hurt Romney. (Also: a third thing might happen, which would be something like, say, "Mitt Romney rides superior name recognition to early wins and/or good results in primary states where large populations of Mormons are not a feature, builds momentum, and forces the lower-tier Huntsman, whose moderate politics are not in vogue, from the 2012 race.")
But there's "another tension that could play out in uncomfortable ways" between Romney and Huntsman! See, Romney is seen as being a devout Mormon, while Huntsman has said to have put "distance" between himself and "his church."
One Utahn put it this way: Romney is Brigham Young University, Huntsman is the University of Utah.
Yes, but do you imagine voters in Iowa and New Hampshire weighing this matter in this same way? "I'm really looking for something more like a Runnin' Ute in 2012," said a random dude from Des Moines.
But Ball and Martin maintain that this "analogy explains everything about the contrast between Romney and Huntsman." At least, that's what they're saying in paragraph eleven of the piece. In paragraph fourteen of the piece, you find them writing, "A competition for Mormon bona fides between the two men would end in a draw." This is the exact sort of sentence that typically spurs a writer to think, "Maybe then, there is no actual basis for an article to be written on this subject." But if you keep reading, you get: "As for who would win the Mormon Primary, most believe Romney would run away with it."
Maybe it would have been best to hold off on writing this story until the authors made up their minds about what it was they thought they were saying?
Former RNC Online Communications Director Liz Mair has an even better reason for not writing this sort of story:
"That headline is pretty cringeworthy. Politico well knows that there is plenty of anti-Mormon sentiment out there, and that attacks on Romney during the 2008 campaign did, in many cases, center on his faith, specifically. By depicting two prospective presidential candidates who are considered by many people to be credible and viable because of their experience inside and outside of government as 'the Mormon guys' right up front, regardless of the rest of the piece's content, I think they did a disservice to public debate. I think Politico does a lot of good work, but I've got to ask, if it had involved two Jewish candidates, would they have felt comfortable going with 'the Jewish primary' as a headline? I really doubt it. I certainly hope they would not have."
I actually think they'd have been totally "comfortable going with 'the Jewish primary' as a headline." But I'd like to make them less comfortable!