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Carole Mikita reportingThursday morning, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney will make a speech that many experts say will make or break his campaign. Romney will address an issue that has dogged his campaign from the beginning: whether or not he can overcome voter bias against voting for a Mormon.
So tomorrow, in Texas, Romney will deliver his speech on faith. From the beginning, this opportunity has been compared to John F. Kennedy's 1960 address on religion in America.
To a group of Baptist ministers, Presidential candidate John F. Kennedy delivered what many considered the definitive speech on separation of church and state. "War and hunger and ignorance and despair know no religious barrier. But because I am a Catholic and no Catholic has ever been elected president, the real issues in this campaign have been obscured, perhaps deliberately," Kennedy said.
His speech, shown on television, was directed to West Virginia primary voters. Kennedy insisted he would not have run in that state or any other if he was not prepared to defend the Constitution.
Kennedy added, "Now there is nothing in my religious faith which prevents me from executing my oath of office. If I thought that there was, I wouldn't take it."
Mitt Romney faces the uphill battle of competing against what is considered one of America's top 100 speeches, but political observers say he could accomplish some of what Kennedy did.
BYU political scientist and pollster David Magleby, Ph.D., said, "Kennedy, I think, effectively said the Pope will not direct me as president, when he gave his speech in 1960; and I think Romney will say the same thing about the prophet."
Kennedy succeeded where Romney hopes to. Political pollster Dan Jones said, "He also convinced people that religion should not be a test for office."
So, who will be in the audience for the Romney speech? We know he and his campaign advisors have invited both evangelicals and Latter-day Saints. We know his speech is titled "Faith in America." We know the former President Bush will introduce him. And, like John F. Kennedy, with this speech, Mitt Romney hopes to end the discussion about his faith.
The Deseret Morning News published a poll of just what Americans know, or don't know, about Romney and his Mormon Faith. In the survey of 1,200 Americans by Vanderbilt University, only 50 percent even knew that Romney is a Mormon. And only 50 percent claimed to know a Mormon.
The poll found "intense bias against Mormons" that is "significantly more intense" than bias against women or blacks. When provided with negative stereotypes, such as "Mormons are polygamists," those surveyed reacted negatively to Romney's campaign.
But those polled responded favorably to messages that dispel negative stereotypes, such as the LDS Church banned polygamy in the 1890's.
Romney's speech will originate from the George Bush Presidential Library in College Station, Texas. KSL- 5 will carry it live tomorrow morning at 8:20. Political specialist Rich Piatt will report live from Texas throughout the day.