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Losing Their Religion

Fiscal issues, not religious issues, are ballot-box busters in New Hampshire.

Losing Their Religion

The “first-in-the-nation” state is last when it comes to religion.

Gallup Poll data pegs New Hampshire as one of the least religious states in the country, lumped in with Vermont in the 2009 survey.

The name or nature of one’s church, if they have one, has never evolved into any kind of political litmus test here.

With that in mind, enter Mitt Romney.

Romney officially becomes a candidate in the New Hampshire Primary today, and the second Mormon in the race, after Jon M. Huntsman Jr.

The particular flavor of his faith made headlines last week when reporters pestered Romney to respond to Dallas minister Robert Jeffress, who referred to Mormonism as a cult. Jeffress is supporting Rick Perry.

A candidate’s religious beliefs should not play into decisions made at the ballot box, Romney said. The Associated Press reported that Romney, when asked about the comments, said that he has heard worse, “so I’m not going to lose sleep over that.”

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has more than 8,000 adherents in New Hampshire, according to information from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life and LDS Church News.

In 1990, Dick Swett became one of the state’s best-known Mormons as he became the first Mormon elected to Congress from the Northeast. His wife, Katrina Lantos Swett, is also politically active. Though they are Democrats, studies show Mormons are mostly likely, of all the various faiths, to vote Republican.

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life study found 52 percent of Mormons polled cite Republican Party affiliation.

Romney, a former Massachusetts governor who has a vacation home on the shores of Lake Winnipesaukee in Wolfeboro, N.H., has addressed his faith in the past.

It is unlikely to be an issue in New Hampshire, based on the state’s level of religiosity and educational attainment, said Michael Dupre, a senior research fellow at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College.

“I don’t think it’s an issue in New Hampshire,” Dupre said. New Hampshire is a culturally different place than the Bible Belt, he said.

“Keep in mind, the economy is such an important dimension, such an important factor, the (other) issues are muted,” Dupre said.

New Hampshire is just not a very religious state, said Andy Smith, executive director of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center.

The most recent UNH Survey Center poll gives a glimpse of the religious nature of likely Republican presidential primary voters.

Of likely Republican Primary voters surveyed from Sept. 26 to Oct. 6, 14 percent consider themselves evangelical, according to Smith.

Other UNH poll findings of likely Republican Primary voters include:

  • 27 percent think abortion should be legal in all circumstances.
  • 58 percent think abortion should be legal in certain circumstances, like if the mother’s health is in danger.
  • 12 percent do not think abortion should be legal in any circumstance.
  • 2 percent responded that they do not know.

On evolution,

  • 20 percent think that man developed over time and that God played no role
  • 46 percent think that man developed over time with some guidance by God.
  • 31 percent consider God created man.
  • 3 percent responded that they do not know.

The UNH Survey Center, in a poll for WMUR that was released Oct. 7, found Romney leading with 37 percent of Republican primary supporters, with Herman Cain a distant second with 12 percent.

Others in the poll were: Ron Paul, 9 percent; Rudy Giuliani, 8 percent; Jon Huntsman, 8 percent; Rick Perry, 4 percent; Newt Gingrich, 4 percent; Sarah Palin, 3 percent; Michele Bachmann, 2 percent; and Rick Santorum, 2 percent. Gary Johnson and Buddy Roemer were below 1 percent.

Smith reported, "Romney has consistently led the GOP field in New Hampshire by a three-to-one margin since 2009."

Here's a snapshot of the Republican presidential hopefuls and their faith:

  • Michele Bachmann: Evangelical Christian
  • Herman Cain: Baptist
  • Newt Gingrich: Catholic
  • Jon M. Huntsman: Mormon
  • Gary Johnson: Lutheran (non-practicing)
  • Fred Karger: Jewish
  • Ron Paul: Baptist
  • Rick Perry: Evangelical Christian
  • Buddy Roemer: Methodist
  • Mitt Romney: Mormon
  • Rick Santorum: Catholic

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