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Posted: 12:36 PM- WASHINGTON - The Mormon problem for Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's expected presidential run has been overblown, a panel of Republican strategists said Thursday.
"The Mormon issue is way overstated," said Mark McKinnon, a former chief media adviser to President Bush's 2004 campaign and a strategist now aligned with Arizona Sen. John McCain. "In the end, it won't be much of an issue." The comment was echoed by David Kensinger, a strategist for GOP Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback, who is expected to announce his White House bid soon. "The country will be ready for this [a Mormon president] at some point," he said.
Romney's membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is expected to be one of the largest hurdles of his potential campaign. Several polls have shown a large section of voters who wouldn't consider voting for a Mormon presidential candidate. Some evangelicals don't consider Mormons to be Christians.
During a conference on elections in Washington on Thursday, a panel on the 2008 presidential race discussed Romney's Mormon issue. The event was sponsored by the National Journal and the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.
Jan van Lohuizen, a pollster for Romney's Commonwealth political action committee, said at one level, people deeply involved in politics - those running campaigns, covering them as journalists or activists on both sides - are going to get sick of the question by August.
"We're already down to underwear," van Lohuizen said, referring to a Web posting by a Time.com columnist about the Mormon garments. "The question will wear itself out." As for regular voters, van Lohuizen said polls have been mixed on concern about a Mormon candidate, but his religion is not what the potential campaign would be about.
"We're not going to run on the Mormon ticket," he said. "We get it." Romney is expected to announce his White House intentions in January. Panelists all said that Romney was in the top of the field of GOP candidates.
The elite include McCain, Romney and former New York City Mayor Rudy Guiliani, said Alex Vogal, a consultant to outgoing Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, who said this week he won't run for president.
Rich Galen, a strategist for former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, also a potential 2008 candidate, went even further.
"It's a two-way contest between McCain and Romney," he said.
McKinnon, also a senior adviser to Bush's 2000 campaign, pointed out the front-runner status also can be dangerous politically.
"Being front-runner is like being the lead mole in Whack-a-Mole," he said.