Religion is an important issue to the Republican voters and this is posing a challenge to Republican front runner Mitt Romney in the conservative South Carolina state.
Mitt Romney, by winning both Iowa and New Hampshire, has emerged as a top contender for the presidential nomination. He is leading in South Carolina, according to the latest polls, with 23 percent, while Newt Gingrich is close behind him at 21 percent.
All the presidential candidates are fighting hard to lure the social conservatives who constitute majority of the Republican voters in the state. The poll strategy of all anti-Romney candidates, except Jon Huntsman, is to leverage their Christian faith to attract the conservative voters. This is going to give a hard time to Romney and Huntsman in the state because of their Mormon faith.
Though Mitt Romney has declared again and again that he is a Christian and Mormonism is a sub-sect within Christianity, the hardcore evangelicals in the state might not find it acceptable.
Majority of the Mormons belong to the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) founded by Joseph Smith in 1820s as a sub-sect of Protestantism. The church in later years evolved its own practices that distanced it from Protestantism. The sect has commonalities with Christianity with respect to their belief in the Bible, Jesus Christ and certain religious practices. They also differ from Christianity with respect of their interpretation of the Bible, Jesus and God and have separate set of beliefs and ceremonies.
For their commonalities, the Mormons consider themselves as Christians while the conservative Christians, like evangelicals, don't accept the Mormons as Christians.
Another factor that would worry Romney is his faith's earlier practices of polygamy and racial discrimination. The LDS Church no more allows the practice of polygamy among its members (the church disavowed the practice more than a century ago).
The Mormons started allowing black people to sainthood in 1978 and till then they had been prevented from the elite religious post. Both these issues are often discussed to portray the Mormon faith as primitive and racist.
Faith always was a presidential election issue in America, and most of the presidential candidates who were from non-mainstream or protestant Christianity in America had to battle the issue in Elections.
President Barack Obama too had to face the heat during the 2008 elections for his membership in a controversial non-mainstream church. The conservative voters usually are reluctant even in accepting other mainstream Christian churches like Roman Catholics. John F. Kennedy, the only Roman Catholic president of America, also had to address the concerns involving his Catholic faith.
If Romney wins the GOP nomination, it will make him the first Mormon presidential candidate and the conservative Republicans might not welcome such a situation.
Another factor is that he still has not got full acceptability even among the moderate and liberal voters who view his Bain Capital days. If evangelicals and conservatives decide to put their support behind a single anti-Romney candidate among Rick Perry, Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul, then it is going to be difficult for him. His hope for a decent win depends on a split in evangelical voters.