Romney, The Media and the 'M' Word

It seems almost laughable to be talking about 2008 presidential politics in the summer of 2005. But when you're a potential candidate from Massachusetts, it's never too early to start building a national reputation on a pile of steadily growing press clips. (Michael Dukakis fueled his 1988 run on a flattering coverage from Beltway bigshots depicting him as the savvy technocrat who fueled the "Massachusetts Miracle.")

So it's worth noting that the September issue of The Atlantic Monthly has what can only be called a moderately to enthusiastically friendly profile of Romney. Monthly One would be tempted to consider the Atlantic a local publication. But since it's announced its intention to relocate to Washington, for the purposes of this discussion let's consider it part of the more important DC-based conversation.

Put it this way. Any story that starts out talking about Romney's "sharply cut jaw," "the whitest teeth I've ever seen" and gushes that he's handsomer than actor Ted Danson -- and has his own hair to boot -- is a story headed for the scrapbook in the governor's press office.

But for all the good news for Romney in the Atlantic, the piece eventually gets to what could be one of Mitt's problems should he get to the point in the Republican primary field where it's necessary to conduct a South Carolina whispering campaign against him. And that is questions and curiosity about his Mormon religion. Even the respectful author of the Atlantic piece finds himself asking Romney "How Mormon are you?" and then asking if he wears the special religious undergarments. (The latter query brought one of those none of your beeswax answers from the governor.)

Last week the Globe's Alex Beam devoted a column -- headline "Are we ready for a Mormon president?" -- to raising the same issue. Beam In a preview of what Romney might expect, Beam quoted Boston College's Alan Wolfe saying "I think there will be rumors spread about how Mitt Romney has six wives, all of them 14 years of age, stashed in a house in Utah."

Whatever one thinks about the appropriateness of Romney's religion as a campaign issue, if he becomes a candidate who gets some serious traction, it will absolutely become part of the political interplay. And the media will ask questions.

They are already starting to. And we're more than three years from election day
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