John F. Kennedy had to overcome anti-Catholicism, and did. Barack Obama had to overcome racism, and did. John McCain had to overcome ageism, and didn't (thanks in part to his boneheaded decision to pick the consummately unqualified veep choice depicted so brilliantly in the HBO movie "Game Change").
Will Mitt Romney overcome what is clearly a lingering bigotry against Mormonism, especially in the the Christian evangelical South? For all of the big-picture analyses we all continue to write about Romney's lack of appeal to a radicalized GOP "base," his third place finish in Alabama and Mississippi could have had more to do with straightforward prejudice, as my colleague Alex Roarty points out today.
Well before the primaries yesterday, I had heard prominent Mormon Republicans express concerns about this sleeping serpent. "The story that's not being written enough is that there is a lot of discomfort with Latter Day Saints, and all the other issues are masking that underlying prejudice," said one Republican who supports Romney. "The truth is, there is not a dime's worth of difference when it comes to public policy between Romney, Santorum and Gingrich."
As we head to the more tolerant North for the critical round of primaries there--and out of the unreconstructed Deep South--Romney may soon find the true test is not his conservatism, but the digestibility of his Mormonism. Stay tuned.