Matt Towery

But Jones equivocated in his endorsement of Romney. In essence, he said he's behind Romney because Romney has the best chance of winning the general election for president. But Jones also explicitly rejected the tenets of the Mormon faith.

Our poll shows that this two-sided endorsement may or may not help Romney. We asked a third question:

"Are you aware that Bob Jones III has endorsed Mitt Romney for president?"

Yes: 58 percent

No: 42 percent

Then this:

"Would the endorsement from Bob Jones III make you more or less likely to vote for Romney in the South Carolina presidential primary?"

Yes: 27 percent

No: 32 percent

Don't know/No Opinion: 41 percent

If you consider that at least one recent poll shows that Romney leads in South Carolina with 26 percent of the Republican vote, then he may already have captured the top spot or be in a position to do so.

Other polls show the former Massachusetts governor trailing Giuliani or Fred Thompson in South Carolina.

Should a candidate's religion matter in the 21st century? Certainly not. Does it matter? Probably not.

Kennedy proved almost a half-century ago that biases against certain religions can be overcome. But unlike Kennedy, whose Roman Catholic faith was considered a prominent issue early in the campaign, Romney has yet to face down the question of his "exotic" religion and its founding document, The Book of Mormon.

When the presidential primary season accelerates into high gear and the gloves come off, the attacks on Romney and his religion will come -- maybe through sneak attacks, like a thief in the night, but they will come.

Romney has going for him his remarkable gift for articulation, including his quick wit. If any of the current GOP candidates are equipped to deal with the awkwardness to come, it's probably Romney.

Jack Kennedy did so by clearly saying he would be his own man as president, neither beholden to the pope nor the dispensations of any one religion or person.

Romney, in today's far wackier world, might get by with simply saying he has not nor will he ever watch HBO's program about Mormons and polygamy, "Big Love." It just might work.


Matt Towery

Matt Towery is a former National Republican legislator of the year and author of Powerchicks: How Women Will Dominate America.
 
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