Mitt Romney appears to be positioning himself well for his expected presidential run in 2012. He hasnt been too noisy or too quiet. He has avoided major controversy. Hes building support around the country.
The current election year will provide Romney all sorts of opportunities to travel the nation, campaigning for gubernatorial and congressional candidates, raising money for them, giving speeches, and strengthening his national network.
Romney has to be considered the clear front-runner for the 2010 GOP nomination. Being the frontrunner this early, however, may be more of a problem than a benefit. Frontrunners take all the arrows.
Despite all of the positive things going for Romney, he still has one challenge that is befuddling the Mormon factor.
Theres no question that the Mormon matter was a big issue in the 2008 campaign, exploited by the likes of Mike Huckabee.
Will 2012 be different? Will the Mormon factor dissipate in importance? Is Romney now familiar enough with voters that his religion wont be an issue?
Only time will tell. But my guess is that the Mormon factor will still be important and a problem for Romney, at least among the religious right.
Sometimes, after an issue has been fully vetted with all the news media writing about it, numerous analyses having been published, and lots of discussions about it, it goes away.
But the Mormon issue doesnt seem to go away, at least among some groups important in the nomination process. Some religious conservatives are convinced Mormonism is a cult and they will never vote for a Mormon for president.
A 2008 book by veteran California pollster Gary C. Lawrence illustrates the problem. Lawrence, a Mormon and pollster for 35 years, did a major national survey for his book, How Americans View Mormonism. The research did not produce happy results for Mormons.
Lawrence found Mormonism has a major image problem. Only 37% of Americans view Mormons favorably, while 49% have an unfavorable impression. For every one person who strongly likes Mormons, more than four strongly dislike Mormons.
Some 49% of respondents said Mormons are mysterious. Forty-four percent mentioned weird beliefs, 43% said women are treated as second-class citizens. Between 38% and 45% variously describe Mormons as blind followers, insular, narrow-minded, self-righteous, fanatical and brainwashed. Lawrence found a great deal of ignorance about Mormons and their beliefs.
So the question is, can Romney, in his second try, win the nomination (and ultimately the presidency) given these factors?
My guess is that Romney has made some progress with this issue. Whether it is enough for him to win is still unknown.