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For the past 167 years, Mormon candidates for U.S. president have suffered a parade of spectacular failures — often, but not always, related to public distrust of their religion.

This year two Mormons — Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman Jr. — are weighing whether they can overcome that historical handicap should they formally enter the 2012 race. Romney is even seen as a front-runner among Republicans, as his father — then-Michigan Gov. George Romney — once was in 1968.

But attacks on Mormonism helped to derail the six Mormons who waged significant campaigns (including Mitt Romney in 2008) — assisted by some unfortunate foul-ups and ineffective campaign strategy.

Those LDS candidates attempted to deal with the "Mormon question" in different ways. Joseph Smith sent missionaries to campaign for him. Mitt Romney and Orrin Hatch gave John F. Kennedy-style speeches saying that their church doesn't control them.

Quite differently, Mo Udall chose to distance himself in 1976 from LDS policies that then banned blacks from the priesthood.Joseph Smith

Not only was he the first Mormon presidential candidate, he was the first Mormon. He taught that Jesus Christ restored his church through him as a modern prophet.

Smith ran for president in 1844 largely to fight persecution that his church suffered as it was driven from state to state.

The late historian Richard Poll wrote a paper saying Smith likely developed the idea to run after LDS leaders wrote to other likely candidates asking how they might help the church if elected.

Henry Clay, John C. Calhoun and Lewis Cass responded, but none supported the federal intervention that Mormons sought. President Martin Van Buren and his vice president,Richard M. Johnson, did not respond at all. So leaders at Mormon headquarters in Nauvoo, Ill., passed a resolution endorsing Smith as a candidate on Jan. 29, 1844.

Poll wrote that Smith came up with a unique campaign strategy: calling for volunteer missionaries to visit every state, as Smith said, to "advocate the Mormon religion, purity of elections and to call upon the people to stand by the law and put down mobocracy." He vowed to "protect the people in their rights and liberties."

Missionaries — including 10 of the church's 12 apostles — traveled to all states and carried copies of Smith's platform. It called for ending slavery by compensating owners, financing the government through tariffs, creating a national bank and bringing Oregon and Texas into the union. An emissary was to observe and possibly lobby for Smith at the Whig and Democratic conventions.

Despite such moves, persecution in Illinois intensified. It led to the murder of Smith by a mob. Mormons were forced out of Illinois in 1846 and migrated to remote Utah.

George Romney

The father of Mitt Romney was governor of Michigan and former head of American Motors when he became the GOP front-runner in the early part of the 1968 race.

It was almost seven years after Kennedy proved a Catholic could become president, after he argued that his religion did not control him and should not matter. But questions still arose about Romney's religion and whether it made him a racist because the LDS Church, at the time, did not ordain blacks to its all-male priesthood.

Life magazine reported that Romney told a ministerial association: "If my church prevented me as a public official from doing those things for social justice that I thought right, I would quit the church. But it does not."

Romney told U.S. News and World Report, "My church teaches me the Negro is my brother, and that the Negro can attain the celestial kingdom [heaven], just as I can."

Romney also pointed to his record as actively opposing segregation and prejudice in Detroit, and as a promoter of civil rights. Several news reports said that seemed to insulate him from questions about blacks and the LDS priesthood.

But he made a statement Aug. 31, 1967, that most historians and journalists say doomed his campaign — and it had nothing to do with being a Mormon.

When asked why he was changing his earlier strong support for the Vietnam War, he said, "When I came back from Vietnam [in November 1965], I'd just had the greatest brainwashing that anybody can get." He later decided he had been misled about the need for the war.

Time magazine said that was "so inept an explanation of his shifting views on Vietnam that it could end his presidential ambitions." Many made fun of his use of the word "brainwashing" and quoted military officials saying they never brainwashed anyone. Others who traveled with Romney said they had not been brainwashed.

Romney withdrew from the race on Feb. 28, 1968. At the party's convention, he finished sixth, with 50 votes on the first ballot (44 from Michigan and six from Utah). Eventual winner Richard Nixon later named Romney to the Cabinet as secretary of Housing and Urban Development.

Morris Udall

He was a witty, liberal Democratic congressman from Arizona and a former pro basketball player. He had not been active in the LDS Church since he was a teenager, but the question of blacks and the LDS priesthood hurt him anyway.

Udall had finished a close second in a string of primaries in 1976. But he was gaining ground on Jimmy Carter in Michigan, which was seen as a chance for Udall to break through with a win to maybe stop Carter's momentum.

But Detroit Mayor Coleman Young, a black who was a Carter supporter, told a gathering of black Baptist ministers that while Carter had tried to open the front doors of the church to blacks, Udall's church "won't even let you in the back door."

Udall biographers Donald W. Carson and James W. Johnson wrote that Udall responded by saying that "he had split with the Mormon Church over its policies toward blacks 30 years earlier. Udall called for Young to apologize and for Carter to repudiate the accusation. Neither did."

Udall backers also noted that Carter attended a church in Plains, Ga., that still barred blacks.

Udall lost the Michigan primary by three-tenths of a percentage point and Carter went on to ultimate victory. Udall finished a distant second at the Democratic Convention.

Interestingly, Udall (who lost an eye as a child) would joke about his chances during the campaign by saying: "I'm a one-eyed Mormon Democrat from conservative Arizona. You can't find a higher handicap than that."

Bo Gritz

He was an outspoken, colorful former Green Beret colonel and a recent LDS convert living in Nevada when he became the Populist Party's nominee in 1992.

As a third-party candidate, he never had a serious chance of winning. Being LDS probably helped him, as fellow Mormons assisted him in gaining more presidential votes in a general election than any Mormon ever has — mostly because all other major LDS presidential candidates were defeated early in fights for major-party nominations.

Gritz gained national attention by helping negotiate an end to an 11-day standoff in northern Idaho between federal agents and white separatist Randy Weaver. He called for opposing "The New World Order," ending all foreign aid, abolishing the income tax and ending the Federal Reserve System. He said the country's laws "should reflect unashamed acceptance of Almighty God and his laws."

He found some support in Mormon areas. For example, 10,000 "enthusiastic supporters," according to news reports, gathered to listen to him at the Huntsman Center on the University of Utah campus.

Gritz received about 100,000 votes nationally, about 1 percent of the vote. But in heavily LDS Utah, he received 3.8 percent of the vote, and in Idaho 2.1 percent.

Two years later, Gritz announced that he had asked the LDS Church to remove his name from its membership rolls. He said that came after his stake president refused to renew his temple recommend because Gritz did not plan to file an income-tax return.

Orrin Hatch

The Utah senator had plenty of problems besides the "Mormon question." He was never considered a top contender by the press because he entered the race so late that almost all financial support and endorsements already had been snagged by other candidates.

Still, the question arose of whether a Mormon could be competitive. Hatch confronted it by giving his own "JFK-style" speech to a meeting of the Christian Coalition in Washington, D.C.

That group had stood for most other GOP candidates who addressed it that day, but initially gave Hatch a cool reception with light applause as only half the audience rose to greet him. Hatch addressed how polls said 17 percent of Americans would not vote for a Mormon for president.

Hatch said, "I thought we got rid of that kind [of thinking] when John F. Kennedy ran for president of the United States as a Catholic," which brought some gasps and scattered applause.

"If the Savior himself came down here right now ... he would miss 17 percent of the vote himself," he said. He then essentially shared his belief in Christ, saying, "I know that Jesus is the Christ. I know that he lives. I know that he died for you and me. ... God bless America, and God bless all of you."

He then enjoyed an enthusiastic ovation. But it did not help his moribund candidacy. Hatch finished dead last in the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses and dropped out.

He delayed that announcement a day because a snowstorm closed the Capitol in Washington. He joked at the time, "I said to Elaine [his wife], 'Maybe I shouldn't resign because this snowstorm is a sign from God.' And Elaine responded, 'No, Orrin. The Iowa caucuses were a sign from God.' "

Mitt Romney

The former Massachusetts governor and chief of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Utah faced questions about his religion, fueled partly by some shenanigans by other GOP candidates.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, an ordained Southern Baptist minister, for example, said in a New York Times Magazine interview during questions about Romney, "Don't Mormons believe that Jesus and the devil are brothers?"

Huckabee apologized. But Romney said in response on the "Today" show that "attacking someone's religion is really going too far. ... It's just not the American way, and I think people will reject that."

In an appearance on MSNBC, the 95-year-old mother of eventual GOP nominee John McCain, Roberta, criticized Romney's faith and his time in Utah heading the Winter Games — saying Mormons were to blame for the Olympic bribery scandal that Romney was brought in to straighten out.

"As far as the Salt Lake City thing, he's a Mormon and the Mormons of Salt Lake City had caused that scandal. And to clean that up, again, it's not a subject," Roberta McCain said. John McCain quickly stepped in and said, "The views of my mother are not necessarily the views of mine."

Romney gave his own "Kennedy-style speech" to address religion at the George H. W. Bush Presidential Library and was introduced by that former president.

"Almost 50 years ago another candidate from Massachusetts explained that he was an American running for president, not a Catholic running for president. Like him, I am an American running for president. I do not define my candidacy by my religion. A person should not be elected because of his faith nor should he be rejected because of his faith," Romney said. "Let me assure you that no authorities of my church, or of any other church for that matter, will ever exert influence on presidential decisions. Their authority is theirs, within the province of church affairs, and it ends where the affairs of the nation begin."

A national Gallup poll conducted shortly after Romney's speech showed that one of every six Americans still said they would not vote for their party's nominee if he or she were a Mormon.

Romney won 11 state primaries or caucuses, but dropped out of the race two days after the Super Tuesday primaries when wins by McCain made it virtually impossible for Romney to secure the GOP nomination.

Six Mormons who ran for U.S. president

• Joseph Smith, 1844. Sought to ease persecution of his church, but was murdered by a mob.

• George Romney, 1968. Once the GOP front-runner; quote about his "brainwashing" over Vietnam sank his campaign.

• Morris Udall, 1976. Liberal Democrat was hurt by attacks about LDS Church not allowing black males to hold the faith's priesthood.

• Bo Gritz, 1992. Former Green Beret colonel was colorful third-party candidate. Later left LDS Church.

• Orrin Hatch, 2000. GOP Utah senator was doomed by late campaign start and public mistrust of LDS religion.

• Mitt Romney, 2008. Addressed concerns about Mormonism in a John F. Kennedy-style speech.