The sixth parallel is related to geography. Born in Michigan, where his father served as governor, Mitt Romney has Midwestern ties, which should help him in Iowa. As governor of Massachusetts, he should have a natural appeal to next-door-neighbor New Hampshire. And in South Carolina, his traditional family values and economic conservatism should play well. If Mitt Romney wins or does well in these early caucus and primary states, which have small Mormon populations, he will have followed in Jack Kennedy’s footsteps, who won an early and unexpected victory over Hubert Humphrey in Protestant West Virginia.
Mitt Romney has won in Massachusetts where Republicans usually lose. In 1994, he gave Ted Kennedy his closest of nine Senate races. Then in 2002, he won the Massachusetts governorship, where he balanced the budget and created an enviable statewide health insurance program.
Lastly, in 1960 an MIT political scientist, Ithiel de Sola Poole, advised Jack Kennedy to address the anti-Catholic issue head-on, which he did at the Southern Baptist Pastors’ Conference in Houston, Texas. Following the Kennedy script that the best defense is a good offense, Mitt Romney has already won over many evangelical Christians in one-on-one and small-group settings, and now he plans to address the Mormon issue before large gatherings of evangelical Christians.
In 1960 Democrats needed a winner, and Catholics wanted to break the anti-Catholic barrier. In 2008, Republicans need a winner, and Mormons want to break the anti-Mormon barrier. History could repeat itself.
A leading scholar in the intersection of faith and politics in the United States, Charles Dunn was named Dean of the Robertson School of Government in August 2004.
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