"I don't think Mormons are ready for a Mormon president," Kim Gardner told Yahoo News when we visited her in Arlington, Va., last month. "I don't know if the country is either. To me it seems like the craziest long shot to have a Mormon in the White House. It seems crazier than having a woman in the White House, or having a black man in the White House."
Some 10,000 members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints live in Northern Virginia, a crucial battleground region in what is expected to be one of the most tightly contested states of the 2012 presidential campaign. Situated next to the nation's capital, the area is a hub for politically active Mormons in their 20s and 30s. With Mitt Romney on the verge of formally becoming the presidential nominee of the Republican Party, we traveled to Northern Virginia in June to talk to these voters about what that historic moment--the first Mormon to be nominated for president by a major American political party--will mean to them.
'I think the big question mark is whether Romney being in the White House would be good or bad for Mormonism'
Kim Gardner, who is 28, lives in a neighborhood of Arlington that's called "Little Provo"--after the college town in Utah where Brigham Young University is located--for its high density of single Mormons. "My Mormon friends and I talk about homosexual marriage and the place of gay people in our country almost every day," Gardner, a Democrat and a supporter of same-sex marriage who works in market research, told Yahoo News. The issue has been a discussion point for her since 2008 when the Mormon church supported Proposition 8, which outlawed same-sex marriage in California. "As a religious person, there will always be things that are difficult to reconcile," she says.
'If Barack Obama were Mormon and Mitt Romney was not, I would still be supporting Mitt Romney'
Peter Jensen started going to a Mormon church when he was six years old. "Someone once said that the only difference between Mormons and the other major religions are that Mormons don't have the luxury of hiding their skeletons in the mists of time," says Jensen, a 37-year-old lawyer and self-described libertarian Republican. He says he will vote for Romney. "Having someone who's president and a member of our faith will help dispel a lot of the old worries and concerns about who we are."
'I think America is ready for a Mormon president'
Melanie Mickelson-Graham teaches a gospel doctrine class at a local church, where her husband volunteers as the bishop. "The tendency of some people to not vote for Mitt Romney simply because he's Mormon does a disservice to themselves," says Mickelson-Graham, who is 32, a moderate Republican, and an energy consultant. "You can't rule somebody out simply because of their religious beliefs."
'There are millions of Mormons in the United States, and he doesn't speak for all of them'
Sheldon Gilbert thinks Romney is stuck in a Catch-22 with his religion and probably a little frustrated that he can't open up more. "If he talked more about his core experiences as a Mormon, then people would understand that he's a compassionate, empathetic individual," Gilbert, a 31-year-old lawyer and Republican, told Yahoo News. "On the other hand, if he talks about it then he opens the door to people asking questions about Mormonism nonstop."
Miki Meek is a freelance reporter and producer for the New York Times, NPR's "Planet Money" and "This American Life." Bob Sacha is a multimedia producer, documentary filmmaker, photojournalist, editor and teacher. In March, they drove Ohio's I-71 and talked to Republicans before Super Tuesady.