Aerial of downtown Colorado Springs, CO. June 2005Jim Wark

Religion is a complicated subject for both of this year's presidential nominees, and neither is saying much about his faith. But religion is nevertheless playing a significant role in the 2012 campaign. Mormons are contributing money and muscle for Mitt Romney, the first of their own on a national party ticket. Although their numbers are small outside Utah, in one state the polls are tight enough and Mormons plentiful enough to affect the outcome. That would be Nevada, a pivotal battleground that Romney and President Obama are both working hard to win. Another group that could make a difference is Christian conservatives. They kept Romney at a distance throughout the Republican primaries, in part because of his Mormon faith and his past stands in favor of gay and abortion rights. Now that he's the GOP nominee, their level of energy and enthusiasm could determine who wins closely contested states such as Colorado, Iowa, North Carolina, and Virginia. Below, two dispatches on how badly the Romney campaign needs these two crucial groups — and what it's doing to mobilize them.

Jill Lawrence

POLITICS: COLORADO

Winning Over Evangelicals

By Beth Reinhard

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Focus on the Family, which describes itself as "a global Christian ministry that helps families thrive," was founded by James Dobson in 1977. Its sprawling campus faces Pikes Peak, the most-visited mountain in North America, rising 14,110 feet above sea level. Like the pink granite summit that beckoned miners during the Colorado Gold Rush, this city about 70 miles south of Denver has become a mecca — not for seekers of precious metals, but for believers in Christian values — earning it the nickname the "evangelical Vatican."

Along with four like-minded organizations around the country, Focus on the Family has sent mailings to 5 million eligible voters, with the goal of registering a million of them. The Georgia-based Faith and Freedom Coalition plans to reach — by telephone, text, mailer, or e-mail — 17.1 million voters in 15 states, including Colorado. Conservative activists from the Heritage Foundation and the Family Research Council parked their specially branded "Values Bus" in front of the state Capitol before the presidential debate in Denver, part of a 24-state tour preaching fiscal and social-conservative values.

Here and in scores of small towns and big cities across the country, conservative activists are working phone banks, canvassing neighborhoods, and passing out literature to get out the faith vote on Nov. 6. "If we know they care about life and marriage and religious-freedom issues, we want them to understand that [the election] does affect their world," says Carrie Earll, senior director of issues for CitizenLink, a Focus on the Family affiliate that does not endorse candidates. "We want them to be connecting their values to who they vote for."

About one of five Colorado voters in the 2008 presidential election were born-again Christians, according to exit polling. Evangelicals are even more prevalent in other swing states, including Ohio (30 percent), Iowa (31 percent), and North Carolina (44 percent), but they could also have an outsized impact on the presidential election in Colorado because of its religious-conservative hub and because the race is closer here than in those states.

Nationwide, evangelicals cast 26 percent of the vote in 2008, with 74 percent favoring Republican John McCain and 24 percent supporting Obama. Born-again Christians were a slightly smaller portion of the electorate that reelected President Bush in 2004 (23 percent), but the spread between his and Democrat John Kerry's support was 7 percentage points wider than the gap between McCain and Obama.

Some Republican strategists say that 2012 is not shaping up to be like 2004, when conservative Christians helped push Bush to victory. While Bush was a born-again Christian who was considered part of the social-conservative movement, Republican nominee Mitt Romney is a Mormon who once vowed to protect access to abortion and gay rights in his adopted home state, liberal Massachusetts. Earlier this month, he set off a firestorm when, facing a double-digit gender gap in the polls, he told The Des Moines Register editorial board, "There's no legislation with regards to abortion that I'm familiar with that would become part of my agenda." His campaign insisted that Romney's antiabortion position is steadfast.

Even some religious conservative leaders came to Romney's defense, pointing to the stark contrast between him and a Democratic president who champions abortion rights, wants health insurance plans to cover birth control, and backs same-sex marriage. Still, among rank-and-file Christian voters, the default level of enthusiasm and grassroots activity may not be enough to tip the Nov. 6 election. "Social conservatives will vote for him, but I don't think the passion is there for Mitt Romney," says Republican strategist Patrick Davis, who lives here. "I'm not seeing as much fervor to make phone calls and knock on doors. He wasn't their first choice." The Romney campaign's challenge is to boost excitement on the Christian Right as much as possible without alienating undecided, more-moderate voters.

This article appeared in print as "God Willing."

To win Colorado's nine electoral votes, Romney must dominate El Paso County, which includes Colorado Springs, to offset anticipated losses in more-Democratic areas such as Denver and Pueblo. In the last three weeks of September, Colorado Springs ranked 11th nationally in presidential advertising (it has fallen somewhat since then), according to the Wesleyan Media Project. Denver is the top media market.

A robust campaign behind a "personhood amendment" would have helped drive Colorado Republicans to the polls, but backers of the initiative aimed at protecting fetuses didn't collect enough signatures to get it on the ballot. Only one state, Minnesota, is slated to have a constitutional amendment on the November ballot banning same-sex marriage, compared with 13 states in 2004 and three in 2008, according to the Human Rights Campaign.

In North Carolina, which in May became the latest state and the last in the South to ban gay marriage, the constitutional amendment passed overwhelmingly, except in the state's biggest and more moderate metropolitan areas, including the cities of Raleigh, Durham, Charlotte, Asheville, and Greensboro. Romney will need to tamp down the president's expected margins of victory in those areas to carry the state that Obama won by fewer than 15,000 votes in 2008. In Iowa, Romney's success depends on strong turnout in the western, most conservative parts of the state, where Santorum ran well in the January caucus.

Social conservatives are "one of the wild cards of the election," Brabender says. "Romney doesn't have to worry about courting the votes of social conservatives, but there is a difference between whether they will vote for him and putting a bumper sticker on their car," he says. "It's a question of intensity."

POLITICS: NEVADA

Getting Mormons Organized

By Alex Roarty

LAS VEGAS — For most Republicans, this presidential election is less about putting Mitt Romney in the White House than kicking President Obama out of it. Their support for the GOP presidential nominee is often driven by contempt for Obama, a feeling so potent that Romney's own moderate past as governor of blue-state Massachusetts hardly matters.

West Allen isn't like most Republicans. For one, like Romney, he is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. And instead of spitting bile about Obama, the Las Vegas lawyer sounds Romneyesque when he calls the president a good man who is just in over his head as the nation's chief executive. As for Romney, well, just listen to how Allen describes him: "As a father of five children, this man is a hero. He's a hero for me and my children because he's actually the type of man I would want my children to emulate. We haven't had a president like that in many generations."

The 45-year-old says that the emphasis on Obama's faults, instead of Romney's strengths, can be frustrating. "I have had a chance to meet and talk with [Romney] and his family, and like I said, I know enough about his faith to know what motivates him," Allen says, speaking from his sixth-floor law office a mile from the city's famed Strip. "When I juxtapose that to the greatest Americans we have, the guy is right up there. It's hard to find a presidential candidate in history of the United States who is such a Captain America-type man." Allen, who calls Romney's campaign "almost providential," still isn't done: "Mitt Romney is very much like Ronald Reagan was." Most Republicans will vote for Romney, but they won't compare him to the Gipper.

Allen's backing for Romney, of course, isn't tied only to their mutual faith; he, like every voter, has a matrix of reasons to explain his support (in his case, a focus on the federal debt). But it's true that their religion, and the shared background and values it brings, are a major reason that Allen and other Mormons are eager to vote for Romney — the first person of their faith to top the presidential ticket of a major party.

The exuberant — albeit isolated — well of Mormon enthusiasm could have crucial implications for the White House race in swing-state Nevada, where LDS members make up about 7 percent of the population. That's not much, but when more than eight of 10 Nevada Mormons are poised to back Romney (a summer survey from Gallup found 84 percent of Mormons favor the GOP nominee), they constitute an important voting bloc. It certainly mattered during the caucuses, when Mormons accounted for a quarter of the electorate. Romney won that race with 50 percent of the vote in a four-man field. If Mormon turnout surges in the general election — as some Republican operatives speculate — or if they're able to energize the GOP ground game, Romney will benefit in a state where he narrowly trails Obama just weeks before Election Day.

But Romney's Mormon edge has a catch: LDS members are committed to keeping their church — a tax-exempt, ostensibly nonpartisan organization — from taking sides in the presidential election. That hobbles those in the community who hope to maximize their effect on the ballot box in November. Here's another problem: The Romney campaign has not yet reached out to the LDS community to enlist its help, according to many Mormons in Nevada. As a result, the two forces best positioned to organize Mormons in Nevada are sitting this fight out. Their absence leaves members of the church to mobilize on their own if they want their favorite son to sit in the White House next year.

Winning Over Evangelicals

By Beth Reinhard

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Focus on the Family, which describes itself as "a global Christian ministry that helps families thrive," was founded by James Dobson in 1977. Its sprawling campus faces Pikes Peak, the most-visited mountain in North America, rising 14,110 feet above sea level. Like the pink granite summit that beckoned miners during the Colorado Gold Rush, this city about 70 miles south of Denver has become a mecca — not for seekers of precious metals, but for believers in Christian values — earning it the nickname the "evangelical Vatican."

Along with four like-minded organizations around the country, Focus on the Family has sent mailings to 5 million eligible voters, with the goal of registering a million of them. The Georgia-based Faith and Freedom Coalition plans to reach — by telephone, text, mailer, or e-mail — 17.1 million voters in 15 states, including Colorado. Conservative activists from the Heritage Foundation and the Family Research Council parked their specially branded "Values Bus" in front of the state Capitol before the presidential debate in Denver, part of a 24-state tour preaching fiscal and social-conservative values.

Here and in scores of small towns and big cities across the country, conservative activists are working phone banks, canvassing neighborhoods, and passing out literature to get out the faith vote on Nov. 6. "If we know they care about life and marriage and religious-freedom issues, we want them to understand that [the election] does affect their world," says Carrie Earll, senior director of issues for CitizenLink, a Focus on the Family affiliate that does not endorse candidates. "We want them to be connecting their values to who they vote for."

About one of five Colorado voters in the 2008 presidential election were born-again Christians, according to exit polling. Evangelicals are even more prevalent in other swing states, including Ohio (30 percent), Iowa (31 percent), and North Carolina (44 percent), but they could also have an outsized impact on the presidential election in Colorado because of its religious-conservative hub and because the race is closer here than in those states.

Nationwide, evangelicals cast 26 percent of the vote in 2008, with 74 percent favoring Republican John McCain and 24 percent supporting Obama. Born-again Christians were a slightly smaller portion of the electorate that reelected President Bush in 2004 (23 percent), but the spread between his and Democrat John Kerry's support was 7 percentage points wider than the gap between McCain and Obama.

Some Republican strategists say that 2012 is not shaping up to be like 2004, when conservative Christians helped push Bush to victory. While Bush was a born-again Christian who was considered part of the social-conservative movement, Republican nominee Mitt Romney is a Mormon who once vowed to protect access to abortion and gay rights in his adopted home state, liberal Massachusetts. Earlier this month, he set off a firestorm when, facing a double-digit gender gap in the polls, he told The Des Moines Register editorial board, "There's no legislation with regards to abortion that I'm familiar with that would become part of my agenda." His campaign insisted that Romney's antiabortion position is steadfast.

Even some religious conservative leaders came to Romney's defense, pointing to the stark contrast between him and a Democratic president who champions abortion rights, wants health insurance plans to cover birth control, and backs same-sex marriage. Still, among rank-and-file Christian voters, the default level of enthusiasm and grassroots activity may not be enough to tip the Nov. 6 election. "Social conservatives will vote for him, but I don't think the passion is there for Mitt Romney," says Republican strategist Patrick Davis, who lives here. "I'm not seeing as much fervor to make phone calls and knock on doors. He wasn't their first choice." The Romney campaign's challenge is to boost excitement on the Christian Right as much as possible without alienating undecided, more-moderate voters.

This article appeared in print as "God Willing."

Getting Mormons Organized

By Alex Roarty

LAS VEGAS — For most Republicans, this presidential election is less about putting Mitt Romney in the White House than kicking President Obama out of it. Their support for the GOP presidential nominee is often driven by contempt for Obama, a feeling so potent that Romney's own moderate past as governor of blue-state Massachusetts hardly matters.

West Allen isn't like most Republicans. For one, like Romney, he is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. And instead of spitting bile about Obama, the Las Vegas lawyer sounds Romneyesque when he calls the president a good man who is just in over his head as the nation's chief executive. As for Romney, well, just listen to how Allen describes him: "As a father of five children, this man is a hero. He's a hero for me and my children because he's actually the type of man I would want my children to emulate. We haven't had a president like that in many generations."

The 45-year-old says that the emphasis on Obama's faults, instead of Romney's strengths, can be frustrating. "I have had a chance to meet and talk with [Romney] and his family, and like I said, I know enough about his faith to know what motivates him," Allen says, speaking from his sixth-floor law office a mile from the city's famed Strip. "When I juxtapose that to the greatest Americans we have, the guy is right up there. It's hard to find a presidential candidate in history of the United States who is such a Captain America-type man." Allen, who calls Romney's campaign "almost providential," still isn't done: "Mitt Romney is very much like Ronald Reagan was." Most Republicans will vote for Romney, but they won't compare him to the Gipper.

Allen's backing for Romney, of course, isn't tied only to their mutual faith; he, like every voter, has a matrix of reasons to explain his support (in his case, a focus on the federal debt). But it's true that their religion, and the shared background and values it brings, are a major reason that Allen and other Mormons are eager to vote for Romney — the first person of their faith to top the presidential ticket of a major party.

The exuberant — albeit isolated — well of Mormon enthusiasm could have crucial implications for the White House race in swing-state Nevada, where LDS members make up about 7 percent of the population. That's not much, but when more than eight of 10 Nevada Mormons are poised to back Romney (a summer survey from Gallup found 84 percent of Mormons favor the GOP nominee), they constitute an important voting bloc. It certainly mattered during the caucuses, when Mormons accounted for a quarter of the electorate. Romney won that race with 50 percent of the vote in a four-man field. If Mormon turnout surges in the general election — as some Republican operatives speculate — or if they're able to energize the GOP ground game, Romney will benefit in a state where he narrowly trails Obama just weeks before Election Day.

But Romney's Mormon edge has a catch: LDS members are committed to keeping their church — a tax-exempt, ostensibly nonpartisan organization — from taking sides in the presidential election. That hobbles those in the community who hope to maximize their effect on the ballot box in November. Here's another problem: The Romney campaign has not yet reached out to the LDS community to enlist its help, according to many Mormons in Nevada. As a result, the two forces best positioned to organize Mormons in Nevada are sitting this fight out. Their absence leaves members of the church to mobilize on their own if they want their favorite son to sit in the White House next year.

MORE THAN POLITICS

Mormons are only the latest ethnic or racial group to be energized by one of their own running for president. In 1960, John F. Kennedy made history by becoming the country's first Catholic president, drawing widespread support among members of the denomination along the way. The same was true for Obama in 2008, when he broke historical barriers to become the first black presidential nominee of a major party and then president.

As it was for those two candidates and their supporters, Romney's candidacy resonates beyond politics. Mormonism has long suffered from widespread misconceptions in some corners of American society — most prominent among them that the church still tolerates the practice of polygamy. Others regard the religion as a fringe cult. These fallacies are so deeply rooted that many considered Romney's faith a hindrance to his political career.

It used to be common, according to Steve Ross, a member of the church and a Democratic member of the Las Vegas City Council, to hear misinformation about his religion. "My kids told me this when they grew up: "˜Dad, we can't eat chocolate?' I told them, "˜Where the heck did you hear that from? I love chocolate!' "

Ross is voting for Obama because, as he puts it, Republican obstructionism in Washington has barely given him a chance to be president yet. But Ross said he's nonetheless "thrilled to death" that Romney is the GOP nominee. "Now that he's running for president, it's changed significantly. Because now people want to know. They say, "˜Hey, this Mitt Romney isn't a bad guy. What does he stand for? What are his beliefs?' It's been an added benefit to missionary work, if you will, for this candidate to be a Mormon and to be on the presidential ballot."

It's that connection, one deeper than politics, that animates Mormons' enthusiasm for Romney. And it's translating into a heightened awareness of the presidential election in a community known for its political involvement, says Todd Moody, a 47-year-old LDS member from Las Vegas. "There are those who are extremely energized by Mitt Romney's campaign and more politically involved than they have ever been," says Moody, a lawyer. "Not just because he's a fellow member of the church but because his ideals align with theirs."

That's not the case with every Mormon, he cautioned; some are far more preoccupied with getting by in a state economy among the nation's worst. But Moody, whose 14-year-old daughter is helping to register voters, says that this election is different. "There is clearly added excitement because of Mitt Romney's candidacy."

CHURCH VERSUS CAMPAIGN

The Mormon community is more excited, yes. But for the church itself, the Romney campaign is a different matter altogether.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is strictly nonpartisan, and any deviation from that would jeopardize its status as a tax-exempt organization. Church members point to another doctrine that keeps the institution from backing Romney: The church encourages its members to be politically active and offers them a chance to register to vote, but members interviewed by National Journal say that any attempt to direct them how to vote — in a religion that preaches self-reliance — would be met with hostility.

"If you were to come to church with me on Sunday, you would see outside our chapel a stack of voter-registration cards," Moody says. "And you may hear from the pulpit something about the bishop encouraging members to become registered to vote. You would never hear him say, "˜By the way, Thursday night, over at the Smith's home, there's going to be a rally for Romney.' Absolutely not — that would clearly cross the line. Not only would it be contrary to church direction, it's so well understood at the church that he would have 12 people approaching him immediately after saying, "˜What the heck are you doing?' "

Ron Futrell, a Las Vegas Republican and member of the LDS church, says that church leaders even discourage jokes about which way to vote. And Ross, the Democrat, says he has never felt pressure to vote Republican. "The church is very, very clear in regards to politics," he says. "The church does not get involved in politics."¦ One of our main beliefs is, we believe in the right to make your own choices and stand up for those choices."

Still, the church's moral teachings — especially on social issues — are often thought to bear on politics. And the LDS church has been very active in some political causes, if not on behalf of candidates. Chief among them recently was lending financial support to California's Proposition 8, which decreed that marriage existed between only a man and a woman. As Nevada journalist Jon Ralston reported, the church sparked speculation that it was tilting toward Romney when an official distributed a memo urging members of the church to speak "with one voice."

Church officials maintain, and reiterate to National Journal, that the effort is strictly about voter registration. But it has extra energy this year. "It's a little more aggressive, I'll be honest," Futrell says of this year's registration drive. "I don't care if I get in trouble for saying it."

In a community that leans hard to the right — 66 percent of Mormons identified as "conservative" in a Pew Research Center poll released in January — registration and turnout may be enough for Romney to win Nevada's six electoral votes. Sig Rogich, a veteran Republican strategist based in Vegas, estimates that Mormons usually constitute 10 percent of the vote in general elections. That number could surge to 13 percent or 14 percent with Romney on the ticket. "The church will say, "˜You need to vote 100 percent in this election,' because [Romney] will get 96 percent of it," he observes. "They don't have to say anything explicit. It's just like JFK with the Catholic Church. They simply pushed for people to vote." 

THE STRATEGY

Despite a shoestring campaign, Romney's former Republican rival, Rick Santorum, won Colorado's nonbinding caucus in February. The former senator from Pennsylvania, known as a staunch abortion foe, campaigned hard while Romney had spent little time here. "A lot of people were shocked when Rick Santorum won the Colorado caucus, because people underestimated the size and scope of the conservative movement in Colorado," says Santorum's top campaign adviser, John Brabender. "Now they're motivated more than anything by voting against Obama. Romney is meeting their qualifications, but they prefer someone who talks about their issues more" — as Santorum did at length.

But the 2012 campaign pulls Romney in another direction. The former governor's background as a venture capitalist and business consultant obviously lends itself to his focus on the economy; what's more, recession-weary voters are also demanding it. Polls show that the economy, health care, education, taxes, and the national debt are more pressing concerns.

Social conservatives are pushing back against the idea that their priorities are on the back burner. Strong families need a strong economy and vice versa, they say. "There's so much overlap between social conservatives and the economic voters that you almost can't parse that out," says Bruce Hausknecht, a legal expert at CitizenLink. "Social conservatives are huge supporters of limited government, keeping the budget within your means, and pay as you go."

A recent tour of the Focus on the Family complex included the studio that produces a daily radio broadcast reaching more than 1.3 million people in North America; plaques marking the 2010 Super Bowl commercial in which football star Tim Tebow and his mother celebrated her decision not to have an abortion; wall-covering collages of family photographs submitted by supporters; and a bullet hole from 1996, when an armed gunman took four people hostage.

Romney's running mate, Paul Ryan, a devout and staunchly antiabortion Catholic whose addition to the ticket heartened religious conservatives, recently taped a radio broadcast with Jim Daly, Focus on the Family's president. One major conversation topic: Obama's health care overhaul, which requires employers to include birth control in their health insurance plans. Catholic institutions fervently objected. Obama's compromise — that religious groups could put the burden on the insurer instead — has not resolved the issue for many and could cost him votes. "Religious rights. That's our first freedom," Ryan said in the interview. "And government needs to respect these rights."

To conduct the national voter-registration drive, Focus on the Family joined with the Family Research Council, Americans United for Life, National Right to Life, the Susan B. Anthony List Education Fund, and the American Principles Project. The groups matched their lists of people who had contacted them at least once with voter-registration lists in 21 states and found 5 million unregistered Christians. "That was quite a surprise to us," Earll says. "We had assumed that the people on our mailings lists were all registered. What we learned is that we can't take for granted that people take action on behalf of their convictions."

The Faith and Freedom Coalition is also undertaking an unprecedented outreach effort. Founder Ralph Reed said that its voter database is five times larger than the list of social conservatives used by the Bush campaign in 2004, thanks to advances in technology and micro-targeting. Its multimillion-dollar effort aims to reach voters at least seven times: through three mailings, three phones calls, and one e-mail or cell-phone text message. The group sent out texts to Ohio voters on Oct. 2, for example, reminding them about the start of early voting. "There's never been anything like it," says Reed, the former head of the Christian Coalition, who added that grassroots networking is more important than ever at a time when voters are oversaturated by campaign ads. "If you live in a battleground state, you can't even turn on TV anymore. The greatest premium is on who can knock on the most doors, call the most people, and turn out the most votes."

Reed says he expects Romney to do better than the 68 percent of the evangelical vote that Bush got in 2000 but not as well as the 78 percent he captured in 2004. "Nobody can predict what will happen, but I think it's different when you're talking about an incumbent president with a record on stem-cell research, marriage, and judicial appointments," Reed says, referring to Bush. He expects the massive outreach effort to drive between 3 million and 5 million more evangelical voters to the polls than in 2008, expanding their share of the electorate by 1 or 2 percentage points, although that will depend on how many other types of voters cast ballots.

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