Should religion be a factor in Romney’s veep pick?

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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As we get closer to finding out whom Mitt Romney will select to be his running mate, it’s worth noting that this pairing could make history as the first duo not to include at least one member of a mainstream Protestant denomination.

“Were Romney to pick a Catholic [as his running mate],” says author and minister David R. Stokes, “it would indeed be the first time that no national ticket included at least one Protestant–going back to George Washington.”

Romney, of course, is a member of the LDS Church, and of the five candidates on most vice presidential short-lists, Rep. Paul Ryan, Gov. Bobby Jindal, and Sen. Marco Rubio are all Catholic (though Rubio attended a Mormon church as a child and sometimes attends evangelical services today.)

Sen. Rob Portman is a Protestant, as is former Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who converted from Catholicism.

“I do not know of a presidential ticket in history that did not include at least one candidate affiliated with a Protestant denomination,” says Thomas S. Kidd, a Senior Fellow at Baylor University’s Institute for Studies of Religion. “That, in itself, would make Romney’s selection of a Catholic as his running mate historically significant.”

There was a time when this would have been a huge deal. John F. Kennedy, America’s first and (so far) only Catholic president, famously balanced his ticket by selecting Lyndon Johnson, a southerner and a Protestant.

But as Stokes notes, the likely possibility that Romney might select a Catholic “shows the great changes since 1960 (and 1928 before that) when a candidate’s Catholicism was seen as an impediment to electoral success.”

The interesting thing to note is how little this seems to matter. “I don’t think it would be particularly important in this election,” says Kidd. Stokes believes denominational differences became less important after “cultural issues such as abortion and same sex marriage became transcendent.”

“Evangelicals would be heartened by the selection of a conservative Catholic running mate by Romney, just as many of them supported Rick Santorum in the primaries,” adds Kidd. “The Supreme Court, of course, now includes no Protestants, and that has not generated much anxiety among evangelicals — most evangelical voters care more about issues more than denominational affiliation.”

Matt K. Lewis