Mormon Mission: Mitt Romney, Jon Huntsman Challenged by Stereotypes

From "Book of Mormon" to "Big Love," unflattering images of Mormons abound.

ByABC News
June 25, 2011, 6:14 PM

June 25, 2011— -- Mitt Romney, considered the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination, and Jon Huntsman, the GOP candidate who may just be the one the White House fears most, share something that makes them different from anyone ever elected president: They are Mormons.

Their campaigns are contributing to what Newsweek has dubbed "The Mormon Moment," -- its cover a play on "The Book of Mormon," currently one of the hottest musicals on Broadway.

The critically acclaimed musical, created by Trey Parker and Matt Stone, of the raunchy "South Park" cartoon fame, is wildly popular with sold-out shows and has already won nine Tony Awards, including this year's best musical.

The play is just one of several portrayals of Mormonism in pop culture these days, and like the rest, it is less than flattering to Mormons themselves.

There is the popular TLC reality show "Sister Wives," which provides an inside look at the lives of the Brown family: Kody Brown, the patriarch; his four wives, one of which is pregnant; and the family's 19 children. The show has drawn national media attention and the Brown family faced an investigation to determine if bigamy charges, a third degree felony, should be filed against them in their previous home Lehti, Utah.

And then there's HBO's dramatic equivalent, the Golden Globe and Emmy nominated dramatic series "Big Love," which debuted in March 2006 and just ended in March 2011. Again, it's a story centering on the Mormon history and the evolving issues regarding polygamy and marriage in this country.

Polygamy was banned in the late 19th century and is practiced today only by a handful of extremists with no ties to the Church of Latter Day Saints. The Census Bureau estimates that there are close to 6 million members of the Church of Latter Day Saints.

The negative stereotypes will likely be a challenge for Romney and Huntsman. America will have its chance have to wait and see just how heavy religious history plays a part in modern day politics.

In a recent Pew Research poll, one out of every four voters said they would be less likely to vote for a candidate if he or she were Mormon.

Romney has already faced the scrutiny in his bid for the 2008 GOP presidential nomination.

"I'm not running for pastor-in-chief. I'm running for commander-in-chief," Romney told ABC News in a 2007 interview, but this time around the presidential hopeful appears to be deflecting questions on religion.

"I'm not a spokesman for my church," Romney said in June, in an interview with CNN's Piers Morgan about gay rights. "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."

As for Huntsman, he told ABC News he doesn't think voters will much care about his religion.

"I think they look at any of the candidates and say where they are going, what do they stand for, what are they going to do for the country," he said. "And I think they're going to make a decision regardless of what someone's religious affiliation is."

Maybe so, but the ultimate Mormon Moment could be a Mormon in the White House.

The one thing that could benefit both Romney and Huntsman; the Mormon community has been proven to be a big base for political fundraising.

ABC News' Jonathan Karl contributed to this report.