Tampa, Fla. • When Mitt Romney addresses the Republican National Convention Thursday night, he will do it as the first Mormon major-party presidential nominee, a moment that members of the faith from around the country say they are eager to see.
"That’s not the reason I’ve supported his policies, but it will be a breakthrough. It will be just like John Kennedy was" for Catholics when he was nominated, said Lynne Hansen, a delegate and Mormon from Hawaii. "It will be historic and very personally fulfilling and exciting."
Romney’s faith is expected to play a prominent role in introducing him to America, but for dozens of delegates who are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — including a number of them from outside of Utah — there is no need for introduction of Romney or his religion.
Heather Sandstrom, a delegate from Mesa, Ariz., has known Romney for 25 years, since they attended the same LDS ward in Massachusetts.
"He’s amazing and he’s so smart, one of the smartest guys I know. He is very compassionate, too," said Sandstrom, who is the granddaughter of the late LDS President Ezra Taft Benson.
She said she believes Romney rarely mentions the work he has done through the church because the religion emphasizes humility, but she has seen him help families in need.
"I think he wants people to see his compassionate side," she said. "I think he wants people to know what he stands for and what he thinks. [His faith] is part of who he is."
A study released last month by the Pew Forum on Religion and the Public Life found that 60 percent of Americans know Romney is Mormon and just under one in five of those who know he is LDS are uncomfortable with the faith.
The unease with the religion is most common among evangelicals on one end of the spectrum and atheists on the other.
Rep. Alan Clemmons is the only Mormon in the South Carolina statehouse and said for members of the faith, particularly those from areas where the religion is not widespread, Romney’s nomination is significant.
"There’s no small degree of pride in seeing a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints rise to the top levels of government in the United States and [potentially] be the leader of the free world," he said.
Coming from a state where evangelicals predominate, Clemmons said he has had to correct misconceptions about his religion. But for those who know him and his family, who are fourth-generation Mormons, the faith is rarely an issue.
"People know who we are, they may not know the tenets of our faith, but they know we’re good people and like we heard last night from Ann Romney, people need to get to know Mitt," he said. "When they see how he lives his own life, they’ll become more at ease."
Debra Jean Forrest of Mesa, Ariz., hosted the first fundraiser for Romney in the state when he jumped into the presidential race in the last election, but said his faith was not a factor in her decision to back him and doesn’t believe it will be a factor for voters, either.
"I don’t think it’s going to be an issue," said Forrest. "I think that the American people see the goodness of the man, his strength and his ability to turn the economy around and that he’s just who we need."
Copyright 2013 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.