As we await the first debate between President Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney, issues of religion and politics resonate in this election just as they have in previous elections. Whether it is Romney’s Mormon faith or the insistence of some that Obama is a secret Muslim, faith matters to many voters.
That was the case in the 2008 cycle, the first time Romney made a run for the White House. I traveled on the Massachusetts governor’s campaign plane in the days leading up to Super Tuesday, meeting up with him in Salt Lake City at the funeral of the prophet of the Mormon Church. The trip was a cross-country sprint that included stops in the Midwest, a Super Bowl watch party in the lobby of a Nashville hotel (the campaign gave out New England Patriots caps to the traveling press but the New York Giants pulled off a stunning win anyway), an airplane hangar rally in Long Beach, Calif., and a red eye back to Boston to await returns on Super Tuesday. As we know. Sen. John McCain was the Republican victor that day and Romneysoon pulled out of the race.
Two months before his first presidential campaign ended, I was in Key West, Fla., at the Pew Forum’s biannual Faith Angle Conference on religion, politics and public life. The invitation-only retreat featured some of the nation’s leading journalists, including E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post, Mike Allen of Politico, syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker and Michael Barone of U.S. News & World Report and Ross Douthat, then of The Atlantic and now a columnist for The New York Times.
Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life
At the time, Romney was preparing to make a major speech about his Mormon faith to counter the unease felt then — and now — by many evangelical voters. So it was fitting that one of the sessions at the conference featured political scientist John Green discussing his research on how religion might influence the 2008 presidential election. The points discussed, including a Q&A session with the journalists, is worth revisiting as we enter the final weeks of the 2012 election.
You can read the transcript here. Be sure to read all the way down to the part where I talk about evangelicals and Reform Jews and the meaning of being “pro-Israel.” Republicans and Democrats are still arguing over which party should get that label, as I have written about for The Huffington Post on several occasions.