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Is Mitt Romney 'the face of Mormonism?' Sen. Harry Reid says no

FILE - In this Aug. 27, 2012 file photo, Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney leaves Wolfeboro, N.H.
FILE - In this Aug. 27, 2012 file photo, Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney leaves Wolfeboro, N.H.
Evan Vucci, Associated Press

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the highest ranking member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the United States government, wants everyone to know that his fellow Mormon, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, “is not the face of Mormonism.”

According to reporter Nick Wing of the Huffington Post, Reid “told reporters this week that he agreed with a blogger who accused Mitt Romney of having ‘sullied’ Mormonism and misrepresenting the faith with comments made in a recently released hidden camera video.”

The Salt Lake Tribune first broke the story.

Mormon scholar Gregory A. Prince, wrote that Romney’s “arrogant and out-of-hand dismissal of half the population of this country struck me at a visceral level, for it sullied the religion that he and I share — the religion for which five generations of my ancestry have lived and sacrificed, the religion whose official mantra is ‘to take care of the poor and needy throughout the world.’"

“My first impulse,” Prince continued, “was to rent an airplane towing a banner; ‘Mitt Romney is Not the Face of Mormonism!’”

Asked about Prince’s comments during a conference call with reporters in advance of Romney’s upcoming visit to Reid’s home state of Nevada, the senator said: “I agree with him.”

“(Romney’s) coming to a state where there are a lot of members of the LDS Church,” Reid said. “They understand that he is not the face of Mormonism.”

For his part, Romney told Fox News that "I really don't have any response to Harry. You know, he can say whatever he'd like to say. This isn't a race about Harry Reid."

This is not the first time Reid has attacked Romney during the current presidential campaign. Reporting on the exchange, Daily Beast reporter Michelle Cottle said that "on some level, Reid’s nasty remarks must simply be filed under the category of Harry being Harry. Despite his nebbishy demeanor, the Senate majority leader is an incorrigible junkyard dog. He has, after all, already called Romney 'kind of a joke,' snarled that he 'doesn’t stand for anything,' claimed knowledge that Romney hadn’t paid a dime in taxes for 10 years (without offering any corroborating evidence), labeled Mitt 'the most secretive presidential candidate since Richard Nixon,' and slammed his refusal to release as many years of tax returns as his dad, former Michigan governor and presidential candidate, George. (“His poor father must be so embarrassed about his son.”)

“When Harry attacks Romney on his Mormon credentials, he’s speaking as one from the inside, not the outside,” Mark Peplowski, a political science professor at the College of Southern Nevada, told KSNV Television in Las Vegas. “Sen. Reid is trying to convince the Mormons to stay home instead of blindly voting for the LDS candidate. He wants them to think, ‘Hey, I have second thoughts about this.'”

Which, Cottle argues, could be ultimately beneficial to the LDS Church.

"For all its progress, Mormonism is still viewed with unease by many Americans who see it as secretive, hierarchical, and controlling," she wrote. "The squabbling between Reid and Romney could help promote the message (fervently stressed by church leaders) that Mormons do not march in cultlike political lockstep anymore than, say, Southern Baptists or Catholics."

While Cottle indicates that LDS officials have declined comment on Reid's comment. But she notes that among "Mormons who have a finger on the pulse of the community, the prevailing sentiment seems to be that, while the church hopes its members will not question each other’s faithfulness, it respects their rights to hold different political views."

And it is those political views that should be the focus of our attention, says another LDS politician, and not speculation about who is — or is not — "the face of Mormonism."

“First of all,” said erstwhile presidential candidate Jon Huntsman during an interview with KSNV, “let’s keep religion out of politics. I think we want a conversation that speaks to the real germane issues that we face as Americans.

“Second of all,” he continued, “I think the face of Mormonism is becoming increasingly diverse, and that’s probably a good thing. So it’s really hard to define what that face is. But let’s stick with the issues; let’s keep the sideshows to a minimum.”