Washington • The head of the Democratic Party scolded Sen. Orrin Hatch on Wednesday for alleging that President Barack Obama would use Mitt Romney's Mormonism against him in the White House race.
"That is just preposterous," Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, told MSNBC. "That suggestion is utter nonsense."
Hatch, during a campaign stop in northern Utah, had raised the prospect that Obama's re-election campaign would play the religion card to harm Romney's chances of toppling the incumbent Democrat.
"You watch, they're going to throw the Mormon church at him like you can't believe," Politico quoted Hatch as saying at a Farmington town hall.
Wasserman Schultz told MSNBC that Obama faced unfair criticism during his 2008 bid about his birth certificate and whether he was a Christian.
"For them to suggest," the congresswoman said, "that religion will be injected by President Obama and the Democratic Party, I mean, I think they need to take a look inward at the accusations that their party and their supporters have hurled before they take that step."
The Utah Democratic Party also criticized Hatch's remarks, arguing that the six-term Republican senator should show more civility.
"Senator Hatch is absolutely making this up," Craig Janis, a Democratic official who oversees party outreach to Mormons, said in a statement. "The Obama campaign and President Obama himself have been crystal clear: For them, religion is off the table. The comments by the senator show, once again, how out of touch he is with Utah and with the civility we value here."
Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt on Wednesday reiterated a previous statement that the re-election bid isn't going to touch Romney's faith.
"Attacking a candidate's religion is out of bounds," LaBolt said, "and our campaign will not engage in it."
Hatch's campaign declined to comment. But the Utah senator isn't the first to throw out the idea that liberals would target Romney's religion to score points.
"The secular liberals are going to mock Mormonism," Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, told an audience last year at the National Press Club. "They're going to start doing documentaries on Mormonism and try to scare independents about him. They ought to be ashamed of themselves, and they will do this."
Anti-Mormon rhetoric surfaced in Romney's 2008 presidential run.
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee noted Mormons' belief that Jesus and Satan are brothers, a heretical thought to some evangelical voters. Some liberal commentators, such as Bill Maher, have blasted LDS beliefs as well.
And there may be some political calculus behind the banter.
A Salt Lake Tribune national poll last year found sizable portions of Americans uncomfortable voting for a Mormon for president.
Among Republicans, 14 percent were uncomfortable with casting a ballot for an LDS presidential candidate and 27 percent of independents felt the same way. Among Democrats, 36 percent said they would be uncomfortable with a Mormon president.