Correction: An earlier version of this article omitted several previous Catholic vice presidential candidates. Their names have been added.
The selection of Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., a Catholic, as Mitt Romney's running mate means that one of the two major parties is nominating a presidential ticket without a member of a Protestant faith for the first time in history.
In 1928, New York Governor Al Smith, a Democrat, was the first Catholic to sit atop a major party ticket, but his nomination was balanced by Arkansas Sen. Joseph Taylor Robinson, a Protestant who was outspoken against anti-Catholic bigotry. They lost in a landslide to Republican Herbert Hoover.
Since then, John Kennedy was the only non-Protestant to ever win at the top of the ticket. Other than Romney, the only other recent non-Protestants to head a presidential ticket were Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., in 2004 and another Massachusetts governor --1988 Democratic nominee Mike Dukakis is Greek Orthodox.
Before Ryan’s pick there were six non-Protestant candidates for vice president, and one asterisk. Rep. William Miller, R-N.Y. was the only Republican Catholic to get the nod before Ryan. On the Democratic side, Catholic politicians Sen. Ed Muskie, Ambassador Sargent Shriver, Rep. Geraldine Ferraro and current Vice President Joe Biden were selected for the number–two slot.
Al Gore picked Sen. Joe Lieberman, an Orthodox Jew, as his running mate in 2000. Catholic Sen. Thomas Eagleton was George McGovern’s first choice for the vice presidential slot in 1972, but press reports of his repeated hospitalizations for nervous exhaustion led to his withdrawal from the ticket.
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Romney's team clearly thinks they are going to win on religion in the campaign, even though evangelicals won't have one of their own on the ticket. In an ad released Thursday by the Romney campaign, Romney is portrayed as a defender of religious liberty, and charges that President Obama "used his health care plan to declare war on religion, forcing religious institutions to go against their faith."
A recent Pew Research Center poll shows that voters are largely comfortable with Romney's Mormon faith. The poll, published July 26, shows that 80 percent of voters who are aware of Romney's religious background are either comfortable with it, or don't care.
A deeper look into those results reveal that white evangelical voters are less likely to be comfortable with Romney’s Mormon faith than any polled subgroup, other than atheists and Democrats. The 23 percent of white evangelicals who say they are uncomfortable with Romney’s Mormonism still support him over Obama by an overwhelming majority, but they characterize their support as not strong.
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The Pew poll from last month revealed much more doubt about Obama's Christian faith, with just 49 percent of voters identifying him as Christian in July 2012, four years into his presidency.