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Posted: 7:39 PM- Mitt Romney dragged fellow Mormons into the presidential race, whether they liked it or not.

Most thought publicity for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, whether positive or negative, would be a good thing. With optimistic naivete, many believed the more people knew of Mormonism, the more Latter-day Saints would be accepted into mainstream America, legitimate players on the national stage.

That didn't happen. Instead, some said, Romney's failed campaign revealed what many Americans really think about Mormons. It forced Latter-day Saints to acknowledge that they don't just belong to another American denomination.

"We have to live with the fact that a lot of people think our beliefs are strange," said LDS historian Richard Bushman, the professor emeritus at Columbia University who helped explain Mormonism to a skeptical public. "Mormons have never had so much exposure as we have in the last year, so much genuine curiosity on the part of high-level media. I don't think we'll ever be the same."

If it has been tough for many Latter-day Saints to see themselves as others do, it has been equally hard to face the country's continued bigotry, said others.

Romney's candidacy "exposed a real intolerance for Mormonism in parts of this country, something this country should be embarrassed about," ABC News senior political analyst Jake Tripper wrote on his blog Thursday. "And I'm not just talking about Evangelicals, I'm talking about supposedly tolerant liberal-types, too."

National news Web sites posted photos of LDS undergarments, reporters asked Romney questions about where Jesus would touch down at his Second Coming and Republican candidate Mike Huckabee "innocently" wondered whether Mormons believe that Jesus and Lucifer were brothers. Authors in liberal publications such as The New Republic and Slate suggested that anyone who believed the seemingly outlandish story of Mormon origins was not fit to be president, while at least one conservative Christian declared that a vote for Romney was a vote for Satan. Career anti-Mormons had a field day on the Internet and in mailings to potential voters, accusing Latter-day Saints of being racist, misogynist and polygamist.

An August 2007 poll by the Pew Research Center found that 25 percent of Americans would be less likely to vote for a Mormon and just 53 percent of the public had a favorable opinion of Mormons.

The tone of the questions and comments is what upset Nancy Dredge, editor of Exponent II, a Mormon women's magazine published in Boston.

"It's OK to challenge our beliefs but no one wants to be treated like they're weird," she said. "When commentators asked who would vote for someone who believes the Garden of Eden is in Missouri and other mocking things about our beliefs, I felt very attacked and hurt."

The anti-Mormon whispering campaigns in the Bible Belt may also have permanently derailed the growing political alliance between Mormons and Evangelicals.

"As long as the Republican Party is primarily a party with an evangelical base, I don't see how any Mormon could do any better than Romney," said Alan Wolfe, director of the Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life at Boston College. "You can't explain how a relatively competent, successful businessman and governor could do so badly in the Southern primaries without pointing to his Mormonism."

Still, Bushman hopes this new awareness will usher in "a new age of conversation where we don't preach or debate, but learn to converse candidly in a straightforward way with curious outsiders and contribute to mutual understanding." -PEGGY FLETCHER STACK can be contacted at" Target="_BLANK"> or 801-257-8725.