A question discussed privately by political strategists on both sides of political aisle focuses on the concern that bigotry — either religious or racial — could decide who wins the Presidency of the United States in November.
Republican and Democratic strategists confide to Capitol Hill Blue that focus groups and some polling show resentment of either incumbent President Barack Obama’s race or Republican challenger Mitt Romney’s Mormonism could be a deciding factor in a close race.
“It may come down to which base fear is more dominant: Fear of blacks or fear of Mormons,” says a senior Democratic strategist, who asked not to be identified. “We see a lot of fear on both sides.”
Which leaves both campaigns with a decision. Do Republicans play a race card by playing on the fear that many on the right have on racial issues? Do Democrats raise questions about those who belong to the Mormon faith?
“It would be a dangerous move by either side,” says a top GOP strategist. “Some in the Romney camp want to use Rev. Wright. That could backfire in a big way.”
Romney rejected using Wright against Obama two months ago but decisions have a habit of changing in close elections.
In the 2008 campaign, GOP Presidential candidate John McCain ruled out using Rev. Jeremiah Wright‘s fiery sermons, particular one where he screamed “God Damn America,” against Obama, although independent groups did raise the issue. At the time, Obama was a member of Wright’s church but resigned.
Some in GOP circles believe that if McCain has turned his attack dogs loose on Wright and left Sarah Palin to a life of obscurity in Alaska, he might have had a better shot at winning.
In this year’s election, polls in both camps show fear of the Mormon religion runs high with a surprising number of Americans. Some equate Mormonism with the Church of Scientology.
“A high level of misunderstanding exists about religion,” says one Democratic pollster. “Ask the average American if there is a difference between The Church of Scientology and Christian Scientists, for example, and almost half will say ‘no’ even though we’re talking about entirely different religions. One internal poll, never released to the public, showed 20 percent think Mormons and Muslims have a lot in common.
Which leaves Campaign 2012 with a frightening scenario. In today’s win-at-any-cost political environment, will race and religion become attack lines?
Stranger things have happened in Presidential campaigns.
Four years ago at this time, few Americans had ever heard of Sarah Palin.
Now, most probably wish they never had.