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Church says ‘I am a Mormon’ campaign has nothing to do with Romney

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Alex Pappas
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      Alex Pappas

      Alex Pappas is a Washington D.C.-based political reporter for The Daily Caller. He has also written for The Washington Examiner and the Mobile Press-Register. Pappas is a graduate of The University of the South in Sewanee, Tenn., where he was editor-in-chief of The Sewanee Purple. While in college, he did internships at NBC's Meet the Press and the White House. He grew up in Mobile, Ala., where he graduated from St. Paul's Episcopal School. He and his wife live on Capitol Hill.

If you live in one of 13 select cities across the country, it’s likely you’ve seen the “I am a Mormon” ads on billboards, on TV or even on the side of a bus.

The ads are a project of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints “to break through the stereotypes of what people think they know about Mormons” and help make the country more comfortable with the faith of 14 million people.

But while the “I am a Mormon” campaign started soon after the Republican presidential contest began heating up, church officials tell The Daily Caller it was not meant to help the two Mormons who were running or even designed with the election in mind.

“There is no direct connection,” Michael Purdy, a church spokesman, told TheDC. “Research and planning for the ‘I’m a Mormon’ campaign began years ago.”

The feel-good ads show various faces of members of the church in order to demonstrate that the church is made up of a diverse collection of people.

Both Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor who has already won two early nominating contests, and Jon Huntsman, the former Utah governor who dropped out of the race this week, are members of the church.

Purdy said the church is “careful to walk a fine line in defining itself and its beliefs during a period of intense interest while not getting involved in or commenting on the politics that are generating the questions about our beliefs and practices.”

“The Church is strictly politically neutral and does not seek to elect candidates nor persuade its members how to vote,” he said.

Still, the church doesn’t deny that Romney and Huntsman’s candidacies have generated interest in the faith.

“There’s no question that the news media’s intense interest in Mormonism is due in large part to two Mormons running for president,” Purdy said.

He added: “But we are not interested in the political side of this situation.”

Purdy said the church did not speak with the presidential campaigns about the marketing campaign at any point.

The “I am a Mormon” ads are running in Phoenix, Atlanta, Denver, Spokane, Seattle, Austin, San Antonio, Omaha, Lincoln, Indianapolis, Fort Wayne and South Bend.

The church intentionally chose not to run ads in any of the early primary states. “It was just a way to reinforce that there is no political motive to the ads,” he said.

Notre Dame political science professor David E. Campbell told TheDC that, “the campaign is obviously designed to foster a positive impression of LDS Church members, and so might very well have a small impact on favorability toward Romney.”

But he said he doesn’t think the campaign was created with that in mind.

“You can take the LDS Church representatives at their word when they say that the campaign is not designed to aid Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign,” he said. “The Church is very careful to steer clear of partisan politics, and the empirical evidence indicates that it is successful.

As he detailed in his book, “American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us,” along with Robert Putnam, Campbell said Mormons rank last in terms of conducting political activity at church when compared with other faiths.

A former Huntsman aide declined to speak on the topic when reached by TheDC. A Romney spokeswoman didn’t return a request for comment.

“Obviously, there is a national conversation going on about the Church and we want to be a part of that conversation,” Purdy said. “We want people who are asking questions about who we are and what we believe to have access to information that answers those questions.”

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