ABC News’ Sarah Kunin (@Sarah_Kunin) reports:
On June 24, Utah’s Mormon Republicans will have to make a rather uncomfortable decision: whether to attend a fundraiser for twice-elected former Gov. Jon Huntsman or for LDS luminary Mitt Romney.
The Romneys and Huntsmans have shared a storied history that spans several generations.
Huntsman’s brother Peter explained to the Washington Post: "My grandfather, David Haight, my mother's father, he was an apostle and he grew up in Oakley, Idaho. And, if I have this right, his best friend growing up was George Romney. So that's where the Romney-Huntsman line started."
But it all went south in 2006, when Huntsman rocked the Mormon political landscape by backing Sen. John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign.
"I don't think it does anybody any good to see it through a religious prism," Huntsman told Salt Lake City’s Deseret News after he made the decision. "This is much broader than that. And I think the LDS population is to be seen as broader than that and increasingly diverse in its interests and its aspirations and its makeup."
At the time, Huntsman’s father, billionaire businessman Jon Huntsman Sr., had been one of Romney’s strongest supporters, reportedly donating nearly $130,000 to Romney’s PAC and serving as a Romney national finance co-chairman.
“I think it’s very exciting for Utah Republicans to have two front-running candidates for president,” Utah GOP Chairman Thomas Wright told The Salt Lake Tribune. “I mean, it’s rare for Utah to be in the center of a presidential election, and this year we’re right in the middle of it. … They’re going to be competing for the same supporters in Utah because they both have strong ties to Utah, and I think it will be interesting to see where some of those supporters go.”
While the Mormon tag has been a constant theme in interviews with both Romney and Huntsman, their relationship with their faith is expressed in noticeably different ways. In his first network television interview, Huntsman told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos, “I believe in God. I'm a good Christian. I'm very proud of my Mormon heritage. I am Mormon. Today, there are 13 million Mormons. It's a very diverse and heterogeneous cross-section of people. And you're going to find a lot of different attitudes and a lot of different opinions in that 13 million.”
Romney recently went on the defense, telling CNN’s Piers Morgan, “I'm not a spokesman for my church. And one thing I'm not going to do in running for president is become a spokesman for my church or apply a religious test that is simply forbidden by the Constitution. I'm not going there. … If you want to learn about my church, talk to my church."
Matthew Bowman of The New Republic, believes that Huntsman and Romney represent two different generations of the LDS community.
“Huntsman is both a product and arbiter of this new strain of Mormonism,” Bowman writes. “He displays an ease in the world that Romney seems to lack: the capacity for self-awareness, and the ability, even the desire, to negotiate with the culture around him. Romney offers platitudes about the moral core of all faiths; Huntsman offers praise for Buddhist philosophy and has adopted children from India and China. Huntsman is a fan of Led Zeppelin; it's difficult to picture Romney knowing who Led Zeppelin is.”