Romney's Issue with Evangelicals

Much has been made about Mitt Romney's struggles to win over the conservative base. He's polling even or ahead in Mississippi and Alabama before tonight's primaries, but given past performances, he'd need an act of God to win a Southern state. Gingrich and Santorum splitting the conservative vote might be just such a miracle, but it still seems somewhat unfathomable given Public Policy Polling's sample that puts evangelicals as 70 percent of likely Republican voters in Mississippi and 68 percent in Alabama.

That same PPP poll found that voters in these states didn't believe in evolution by large margins—60 percent in Alabama and 66 percent in Mississippi.

One has to wonder how that same subsection views Romney's Mormon faith. If these voters interpret the Bible so strictly that they doubt evolution, they probably don't look too favorably upon a religion that claims Jesus reappeared in the middle of Missouri once he'd finished up in Jerusalem. Mormonism is a fast-growing religion, but that expansion isn't evenly distributed around the country. Mormons represent 1.7 percent of those affiliated with a religion, according to a study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, but they are heavily centered out West. The Church of Jesus Christ Latter-Day Saints has a membership of just 34,725 in Alabama and 21,217 in Mississippi, about 0.7 percent of the population in both states. Largely unexposed to people of the Mormon faith in everyday life, it's not uncommon to hear these sorts of evangelicals describe it as a separate religion rather than merely another Christian denomination.

These two states certainly won't tip over to Obama anytime soon; as Ed Kilgore noted yesterday, only 10 percent of whites in Alabama and 11 percent in Mississippi voted for Obama in 2008. But they might sit home rather than voting for the Republican who is a member of a church they view as blasphemous. If such disdain is propelling these voters to oppose Romney, it will likely carry over to neighboring states, where lower Republican turnout could swing electoral votes Obama's way—say Virginia, North Carolina, and Missouri—states  not as homogeneously conservative as the Deep South.

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