There exists a usually-quiet divide among GOP ranks between evangelical Protestant Christian activists and non-Protestant Christians. Some of it is theologically based, as Catholics and Mormons and Evangelicals are about as far apart as any two groups can be while still calling themselves Christian. Some of it is political, as many Catholics are more politically moderate than evangelicals.
These tensions get drug into the political realm, often by attacks from evangelicals seeking to split hairs and attempt to drive away support for opponents. One such attempt to drag religion into the 2008 Presidential race was reported on by Lee Bandy of The State, who writes about Saturday's stunt by Cyndi Mosteller, the chair of the Charleston County Republican Party, and long-time social conservative activist, in the middle of a visit to the state GOP's monthly executive committee meeting:
Romney, a possible Republican candidate for president in 2008, was in town to address the state executive committee.
Cyndi Mosteller, chairwoman of the Charleston County Republican Party, one of the largest GOP organizations in the state, came armed with a bunch of material — and questions — about the Mormon church.
The incident only underlines what could become an uncomfortable debate over Romney’s faith if he runs for the White House. The issue will be on the table in South Carolina’s early primary contest, where roughly 35 percent of GOP voters are evangelical Christians, many of whom view Mormonism with skepticism.
This divide is also pointed out in recent coverage over the immigation reform issue, in the Honolulu Advertiser and Boston Globe. The Honolulu Advertiser reports:
While Catholic bishops and many Republican politicians share opposition to abortion, they're often split over the specifics of immigration reform. Church leaders are challenging — and in some cases even vowing to defy — the tougher enforcement proposals by GOP lawmakers.
The issue highlights the roadblocks that the Catholic worldview creates for Republicans and Democrats. Catholics generally are conservative on personal issues such as marriage, but they tend to be liberal on social-justice issues, limiting the appeal of both major parties and leaving Catholics "politically homeless."
Personally, I doubt the McCain campaign had anything to do with the attack by Mosteller, who was a McCain backer in 2000, and according to one person I talked to who there, had McCain materials at the meeting (take that report for what it's worth, but I take this person at his word). However, they should reconsider having the active support of loose cannons who drag religious differences into the political arena, as any campaign should.
How Romney's faith is attacked, or respected, will say a lot about how much the GOP base really welcomes non-Protestants into the fold. If the GOP really wants them on board, and is not just paying lip service to win their votes, then their Presidential candidates had better avoid incidents like the one that took place Saturday.
If you'd like to know what others think ... there's more discussion of this issue by Faith in the South, Laurin Line, and Palmetto Republican.