Over the past few days, anyone interested in American politics has read more than a few stories about U.S. Sen. Larry Craig, a Republican stalwart from Idaho, and his adventures in a men’s bathroom in Minnesota. It will be some time before people in this town are able to talk about a politician taking a unique “stance” on a tricky issue without thinking about him.
Most of these stories have included references to Craig stepping down as leader of the Mitt Romney campaign in Idaho. And most of these stories have included language similar to the following, drawn from a Fox News story based on Associated Press reporting. The point is that this senator is a key Republican conservative, popular with cultural conservatives and that, of course, he is from Idaho:
The negative reaction from other sectors of the party contrasted sharply with the local GOP response. … (The) Idaho Republican Party took a measured, wait-and-see stance on Craig’s future while Democrats remained mum, content to let Republicans sort through the fallout. …
The fallout, however, may be too much for Craig to withstand. Public attention is laser-focused on the topic in Idaho, and some social and religious conservatives and talk show hosts are calling on Craig to give up his seat. Political analysts say Craig will have trouble convincing Gem State voters that his 27-year political career is worth prolonging. …
Idaho Republicans possess a fiercely independent streak, characterized by a healthy dose of libertarian values and distrust of the federal government and the media. They generally hold deep religious beliefs and conservative social values.
Now what else does the typical politically active and/or informed American know about Idaho and conservatives in Idaho? Or, perhaps, I should say this is something people think they know about Idaho.
Well, they probably think that Idaho is a majority Mormon state or close to it. It is not. There are quite a few Mormons in the state and they are powerful, but the percentage of the population seems to be around 20-plus.
Today, I went out of my way to ask people here in Washington, D.C., if they knew the religious affiliation of the besieged senator from Idaho. I picked on people who were reading newspapers, mainly.
Every single one of them said these words or words to this effect: “Isn’t he Mormon?”
No, he is not. He is listed in several locations as a “Methodist.” One would assume, out in the West, that this means he is a United Methodist — one of the “seven sisters” of liberal mainline Protestantism. The home page of the annual conference in that part of the world doesn’t give us much evidence as to its political leanings, but, as a rule, the West tends to be a pretty progressive region.
So, how many of you thought Craig was a Mormon? How many of you had read news reports that identified him as a Methodist? Does that detail matter, in an era when politicians of his GOP ilk are usually going to be linked to the Religious Right in media reports? Does it change your perception of this man to know that he is not Mormon?