I spent part of my morning at the UVa/Hotline American Democracy Conference. Hotlineblog liveblogged the conference. One of the panels was on the 2008 GOP race. (Much of this was also reported by the St. Lake City Tribune) There were plenty of interesting questions that I am going to try to address in the next couple of days. But one question and answer seems particularly apropos to some recent debates appearing on the blogosphere.
Chuck Todd asked about "The Mormon Question". Jan Van Lohuizen, Romney’s pollster responded with:
There are two levels to the answer. One level is the inside baseball between now and, call it August. The people in this room are going to hear questions about the Mormon thing until its ridiculous or its embarassing. I think the question will wear itself out. There is no answer because the question is a weapon and you keep repeating the question until people…don’t want to hear it anymore. At the voter level, the polling on it has been just really mixed. Some people say it;’s a problem to more than 40%, other people say 20%.
I’d take these in the other order. For the people for whom Romney’s religion is going to be a genuine issue, he’s not going to get their votes. The Romney campaign will not be able to hide his religion, and they shouldn’t. The upshot is that the voters will probably be educated on this fact. Therefore, the audience of this discussion is the political elites. Van Lohuizen’s "inside baseball".
Now here’s a question. Would the Romney camp rather have there be scrutiny of his religion or his record? My sense is that they can (appropriately) condemn scrutiny of his religion, especially when it can be made to appear from the McCain camp.
You see, this period of inside baseball is about signing up new support. And, as Romney tries to tack to the right to get more support, he has to present his record. Would he rather have the religious right hear:
- I’m a Mormon. Mormon’s are conservative. I’m conservative. Please study and pray about whether you can support a Mormon.
- I’m a conservative. I’ve shifted around a bunch in the past, but I’m a conservative (for) now. Please support me.
I think that Romney would prefer to talk about Mormonism, frankly. The dynamic right now is that the Romney camp is trying to tell people that he is a conservative. Other people are trying to inform people about Romney’s record. This happened in IA and MI. And now it is going national.
Fundamentally, a discussion about Romney’s religion doesn’t move votes. And I don’t think that Romney will have a problem with volunteers or anything like that. And the donor community doesn’t care (not that Romney really needs the donor community).
However, a discussion of Romney’s record does move votes. And probably away from him. That’s why so many conservative groups are starting to go after him now. They have to get the word out before Romney gets to people. So RightMarch has 27 pages on Romney being pro-choice and pro-gay. Or the Human Events blogs passing around sites that attack Romney from the right. And RedState here.
It’s hard to run from a place you aren’t. We’ll see if Romney can pull it off.