MANCHESTER, N.H. -- Mitt Romney scheduled his public endorsement for the Republican Presidential nomination by U.S. Senator Kelly Ayotte in front of the Nashua, New Hampshire City Hall. Their appearance took place directly in back of a monument memorializing the late John F. Kennedy , who launched his successful Presidential campaign in Nashua on January 25, 1960.
Surprisingly, Romney did not mention JFK despite the fact that the two men share much in common, including hailing from neighboring Massachusetts.
Tall and movie star handsome like JFK, Willard Mitt Romney (like JFK) is the scion of a prominent family that had great wealth and political influence. Both were the sons of extraordinarily successful fathers who had political careers.
Joseph P. Kennedy made a fortune in finance and was a key supporter of Franklin Roosevelt. He served FDR as the first chairman of the new Securities & Exchange Commission and was later appointed ambassador to Great Britain.
George Romney was CEO of American Motors before serving as governor of Michigan in the 1960s. After a failed attempt at the 1968 Republican Presidential nomination, the elder Romney served in Richard Nixon's cabinet.
Both JFK and Mitt Romney share another distinction: Both had problems with religion. JFK was a Roman Catholic and Romney belongs to the Church of Jesus of the Latter-day Saints (Mormons).
In a country in which six of the nine justices of the Supreme Court are Roman Catholics, it is hard to remember that Catholics once faced overt discrimination. Only three Catholics have run for Presidency on a major party ticket and only one -- JFK -- was elected. (Joe Biden is the sole Catholic to serve as Vice President.)
No Mormon has been on a major party Presidential ticket and none has ever sat on the U.S. Supreme Court.
Mitt Romney tackled the "problem" with his religion just as John Kennedy did back in September 1960. The Democratic nominee, addressing a group of Protestant ministers in Houston, Texas, tackled the question about whether a Roman Catholic would be a puppet of the Pope. JFK said that questioning his loyalty was un-American and pledged that he would uphold the doctrine of the separation of church and state. Romney made a similar speech on December 6, 2007 speech at the George Bush Presidential Library, which also is in Houston.
The problem for Romney is that many evangelical Christians, a huge block of voters in the Republican Party, not only view Mormons as heretics, but believe that there should be no separation of church and state. As these evangelicals want a steady Christian hand on the tiller of state, they are wary of a Mormon in the Oval Office as they see Mormons as non-Christians.
Romney dealt with the issue before the 2008 campaign, but so far, has not addressed the issue of evangelicals' hostility to his religion. It may be the unspoken of "Elephant in the Room" in the GOP primary season as, despite a solid core of support, Romney had yet to emerge as the clear front-runner for the nomination. (Fellow Mormon Jon Huntsman has been shunned by Republicans).
Failing to recognize this religious problem -- just as he failed to recognize JFK in Nashua -- and tackle the subject head on may prove fatal to Romney's Presidential ambitions.
- Mitt Romney