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Presidential primaries could test traction of Mormons

By Richard Borreca

LAST UPDATED: 2:23 p.m. HST, Aug 5, 2011

In April, some 6,000 members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, half of them on Oahu, put aside a day to help clean up the state.

Not in a religious sense — the Mormons were out picking up rubbish at state and city parks.

It was part of a nationwide "Mormon Helping Hands" project that is set to become an annual event.

It is also the kind of publicity that Mormons here and across the country will need in the coming political year.

A Quinnipiac University poll released earlier this month reports that only 45 percent of registered voters held a favorable view of Mormonism, with 32 percent of the voters having an unfavorable view. Only atheists and Muslims have less support, according to reports on the poll.

If religion and politics are banned subjects in polite conversation, then next year's presidential race with two Mormons running for president could be America's continuing X-rated dialog.

In Hawaii, there are strong Mormon pockets on Oahu, but it is not really enough to make a difference in a statewide race, says Jack Hoag, a well-known Mormon.

"There's a heavy tilt of votes in Laie and to a lesser extent in Hauula and Kahuku areas, with pockets of Waianae, but with only about 70,000 ‘registered' LDS in the state, of which perhaps 25,000-30,000 are voters," Hoag says.

In last year's gubernatorial contest, former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann had to defend his own Mormon beliefs, but the religion itself did not become as much of an issue as did Hannemann's conservative views of same-sex marriage.

The two ex-governors, Mitt Romney of Massachusetts and Jon Huntsman of Utah, are both Mormons running for the Republican presidential nomination.

In political terms, American voters have "many more questions about a Mormon in the White House than they do about followers of other religions," said Peter Brown, a spokesman for the Quinnipiac poll. The issue is further confused because some conservative Christians do not see Mormons as fellow Christians. And with the GOP base bolstered by evangelical Christians, the success of a Mormon in a Republican primary is a tough sell.

"I think the voters of Hawaii have proven that they have long been ahead of the national electorate on issues like religion and race," says Dylan Nonaka, Hawaii GOP executive director.

Noting that we are equal opportunity voters and have elected two Buddhists to Congress and a Jewish governor, the issue of a Mormon president is not a local concern.

"I am confident that this election will be about who can best turn our economy around and lead our nation back to prosperity," Nonaka said. "A person's religion will have little to do with either, so it will not be top of mind for most voters."

If religious tolerance is part of the makeup of Hawaii's voters, it is all for the better.

Now if we could just get more voters to the polls.


Richard Borreca writes on politics on Sundays, Tuesdays and Fridays. Reach him at

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