In 2008, PRNewser became very interested in the Mitt Romney campaign, as it thrust the former Massachusetts Governor in to the spotlight as a de-facto spokesman for the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints–or the Mormon religion. At the time, a confluence of pop culture and current events put him there, and then it became a non-issue as John McCain rose up to become the presumptive nominee for the GOP.
Fast forward to today, and we have not one but two viable candidates with former Utah Governor and ambassador to China (nominated by Barack Obama) Jon Huntsman entering the race with a campaign video last week. Say what you will about the ad, his resume is ridic.
In 2008 we had a South Park episode shredding the history of LDS and HBO’s Big Love, the hit show about Mormon splinter sects who believe men should have more children through better math: by marrying more women. At the same time, authorities were raiding a giant polygamist compound in Texas for a litany of abuses.
While the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) in Texas has about as much in common with the LDS as Al-Qaida does to Islam, it presents not only an easy leap in judgment in the minds of skeptical GOP voters, but a ready-made platform for misinformation, i.e. whisper campaigns. If you feel I’m exaggerating, check the stats on how many Americans still believe Obama doesn’t have a birth certificate. These things all start ahead of the Iowa straw polls.
We also had TLC’s Sister Wives last year, chronicling the bizarre world of one of these self-anointed kings, Kody Brown (four wives, 16 kids). Estimates put the number of people practicing polygamy in Utah and surrounding states at a whopping 40,000.
However, we also have the adept handling of the South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s latest effort, the Broadway smash hit “Book of Mormon” by both Church and Romney. Romney allowed himself to be portrayed on the cover Newsweek in parody of the musical’s poster image, and meanwhile, the LDS Church plunked down a big ad buy telling New Yorkers that Mormons are cool too. The “I’m a mormon” campaign includes billboard in Times Square with an overly diverse tableau of members (see Harley guy, and amputee rock climber). The Church’s buy is a sound two-fer with both pop culture and politics coming together this summer.
We’ll see what Hunstman does with the LDS question moving forward. Last month, he clearly had trouble with it, unable to give a straight answer about his status. As both Romney and he advance down the warped chessboard that is the race for the GOP nomination, only the ballot boxes–not the polls–will tell us what Americans think of the religion.
(image: Huntsman, one of those cool Mormons)