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Hatch: Obama's people did attack Romney's Mormonism

Published November 20, 2012 9:34 am

Politics • Proof of anti-LDS campaigning appears scant, but senator insists it went on.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Washington • Sen. Orrin Hatch isn't backing down from his previous charge that President Barack Obama would use Mitt Romney's Mormon faith against him in the battle for the White House.

Hatch insists that an anti-Mormon whisper campaign surfaced in Virginia as well as allegations that some calls were made to Catholics saying Latter-day Saints weren't Christians.

"There was a lot more than you think," Hatch said this week. "If you didn't see it, there's something wrong."

Hatch claimed in April that Obama and his people would attack Romney's Mormon faith as a way to hurt the Republican rival.

"You watch, they're going to throw the Mormon church at him like you can't believe it," Hatch said then, according to the Los Angeles Times.

He repeated the charge in various forms after that, arguing in October that when "the Obama people" get frustrated, they would start attacking Romney for belonging to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

There was one report on Catholic.org about a phone call purportedly from the Obama campaign questioning how a voter could support a Mormon "who does not believe in Jesus Christ?"

The Obama campaign denied the call came from its organization and reiterated that it believes a candidate's religion was off the table for the contest.

Independent political observers failed to see the coordinated assault Hatch claimed.

Quin Monson, head of Brigham Young University's Center for the Study of Politics and Democracy, says Romney's Mormon faith wasn't a big an issue in the general election.

"I thought there was a real possibility there was something that might happen but the key was that Obama was never really cornered," Monson said, adding that he never expected any anti-Mormon comments from Obama's campaign but from third-party or anonymous sources.

"A high stakes campaign has stuff in the bag ready to use if it becomes necessary, the fact is that was never necessary," Monson said. "The risk went up and the need went down."

The Democratic National Committee's chairwoman, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, had also castigated Hatch's allegation previously as "utter nonsense."

In an interview with MSNBC, Wasserman Schultz said Obama faced unflattering attacks over his faith and wouldn't do the same to Romney.

"For them to suggest that religion will be injected by President Obama and the Democratic Party, I mean, I think they need to take a look inward at the accusations that their party and their supporters have hurled before they take that step," she told the network.

Indeed, Sen. Mike Lee, a Utah Republican and Mormon, said this week that his faith got "trashed" more during the Republican primary race than in the general election against Obama.

"It wasn't nearly what I thought it was going to be" in the general election, Lee said. "I did expect it to occur; I didn't expect it to come from the Obama campaign or Democrats. I thought that one or more super PACs or surrogates, whatever, would really attack the church. It didn't really happen."

Political observers say that the Mormon faith emerged largely unscathed from Romney's White House bid, with some suggesting that the campaign may have helped educate Americans about the Utah-based religion and demystify its beliefs.

Hatch agrees the run was positive for Mormons, especially in allowing people to get to know a faithful adherent. "That has done a lot of good for the LDS faith all over the country."

The senator argues that the anti-Mormon rhetoric wasn't as "big as I thought it would be," but "it was there." He counts some of the news stories that came out about the faith and its past as another example of attacks against Romney.

"What I thought they would do is try and smear us with the evangelical community," Hatch said, "but the evangelical community hung in there for the most part with the LDS people."

Romney pulled some 79 percent of white Protestant evangelicals on Election Day, putting him on par with the majority that President George W. Bush nabbed in 2004.

On another front, Hatch and Lee say that when Romney began talking more about his faith — and his role as a former LDS Church lay leader — it humanized him and helped him relate to voters.

"If he'd done more of that," Hatch said, "I think it would have been very helpful to him."

Lee noted that the Romney campaign knows more about politics than he does, but that it seems Romney should have opened up about that side more often.

"I'm inclined to think that had they done more of that, had they done it sooner, done it more consistently," Lee said, "it might have been a really good thing."

tburr@sltrib.com

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