JFK's heir ... Mitt Romney?
We all know about the New York Democrat who may try to become the first woman president and the Illinois Democrat who may attempt to become the first African-American president, but what about Massachusetts Republican who's trying to become the first Mormon in the White House? We haven't heard so much about him.
But that's all about to change.
Former Governor Mitt Romney formed his exploratory committee yesterday, the first step in a presidential campaign. Romney's not a household name like the guys leading the pack for the Republican presidential nomination, Rudy Giuliani and John McCain.
But he's got one big advantage over them: He speaks the language of church folk ... the evangelical Christians who wield enormous power in Republican primaries.
Giuliani and McCain have long kept religious conservatives at arm's length. This year, they've been working hard to build bridges with evangelicals, but their efforts don't always ring true in the pews. They haven't championed social issues like abortion and same sex marriage and they don't seem particularly comfortable talking about their faith.
So there's a real ideaological opening in the top tier of the Republican presidential field, and Mitt Romney is ready to fill it. He's become an outspoken opponent of same-sex marriage and abortion rights, despite indications he may have supported different positions earlier in his political career. He's held meetings with top national evangelical leaders, and reached out to smaller Christian groups in the key primary states of Iowa and South Carolina. He's got the message on social issues that these groups want to hear.
But there's a catch.
Romney is a Mormon, and many Christian conservatives aren't comfortable with Mormonism. Michael Cromartie, an expert on religion and politics, told me many evangelicals see Mormonism as a cult. In a recent ABC News poll, 35 percent of voters said they're less likely to support a Mormon candidate.
Think about it. Apart from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the top Mormons in the news lately have been alleged polygamist leader Warren Jeffs and the fictional polygamist family on HBO's hit show "Big Love." Most Americans probably know next to nothing about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and the roughly six million Mormons living rather ordinary lives in the United States.
So chances are Mitt Romney will have some explaining to do. He's used to it, and points to another famous Massachusetts politician: John F. Kennedy. As the first Catholic president, JFK's road to the White House was paved with a million questions about whether the Vatican would shape his presidency. He was finally compelled to declare that on matters of public policy, he didn't speak for his church, and his church didn't speak for him.
Expect to hear something similar for Mitt Romney, before too long.
So what do you think? Is America ready for a Mormon president?