Last Saturday, the Maine Republican nominating caucuses drew a whopping two percent of registered Republicans. Americans are known for their lackluster voter turnout, but this is a paltry showing even for us.
On Monday morning, Alec MacGillis, a senior editor at the New Republic, tweeted: "the Portland Sea Dogs, a minor league baseball team in Maine, drew 5,510 per game last year. The GOP caucuses yesterday drew less than that," proving once again that, even in a country that celebrates its government by, for and of the people, baseball—not voting—is still the national pasttime.
Despite minimal voter turnout, Maine's role in the Republican primaries has not been without scandal. Weather concerns prevented northeastern Washington County—where support for Ron Paul is strong—from holding its caucus last Saturday as scheduled. Because Romney only eked out a 194-vote victory over Paul in the statewide caucus, Paul supporters still believe that Washington County's caucus (now rescheduled for tomorrow) can put them over the top and garner Paul's first victory in the nomination contest.
However, the likelihood of further success for the Paul campaign is slim. Though right-wing conservative Rick Santorum is popular among evangelicals and sweatervest enthusiasts, Republicans looking to November's general election have largely turned to Mitt Romney, a wooden wealthy moderate from Michigan.
But no one has addressed the elephant in the room: Romney's religion.
In a party that loves to throw around accusations that President Obama covertly practices Islam, few Republicans have so much as mentioned the fact that Romney is Mormon, a religion that is maybe even more alienated from the American mainstream.
(A semi-related thought: one of my favorite signs at Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart's 2010 Rally to Restore Sanity read "Obama is not a secret Muslim, but I wouldn't care if he is." Another: "Saxby Chambliss is a cool name.")
The dearth of Mormon references is equally remarkable considering Santorum's emphasis on his own religion and right-wing, evangelical Christian values, and the general use of biblically-derived social policy platforms throughout the GOP.
Is attacking a primary opponent's religion too low for Santorum (or Ron Paul or Newt Gingrich) to stoop—even while accusing Obama of falsely claiming to be Christian is perfectly acceptable?
Perhaps Santorum and the other candidates do not want to create bad blood with the likely Republican nominee and potential future president, but questioning Romney's Mormonism could create more of a boon for their campaigns than expected.
The reach and influence of Mormonism is expanding (partially thanks to those square-jawed Mormon missionaries on bicycles who frequent my neighborhood—in suits, no less!), and five Mormons currently serve in the U.S. Senate.
But the specifics of the relatively new religion, which is not yet 200 years old—an absolute baby compared to most other major global religions—are a mystery to many Americans.
The separation of church and state is, of course, one of the most significant tenets of American political life and so, theoretically, Romney's Mormonism should not matter—and maybe it doesn't. But it is a religion so shrouded in secrecy that non-Mormons are forbidden from entering Mormon places of worship. I'm not saying Mormonism is a cult, but...
No, I'm really not saying that; however, the secrecy surrounding many details of the actual practice of Mormonism is particularly discordant with the extensive, mandatory missionary work done by young Mormons.
Why does a religion that emphasizes proselytizing not throw open its doors and welcome potential new members of its church? Additionally, the refusal of the Mormon leadership to reveal any of the religion's most basic practices is inherently bizarre, and a little suspect—what is going on in those castle-like Mormon temples that we cannot know about? Something to do with that required Mormon underwear?
Mormons cannot drink anything caffeinated or alcoholic, either, and frankly, I'd be worried about the sanity of a president who can't unwind with a beer. The presidency is not known for being a particularly stress-free job, and if a potential President Romney couldn't let loose with a drink or two (or even a Diet Coke), what other bizarre forms of relaxation might entice him?
Of course, a lack of caffeine or alcohol in a president's diet is not of the utmost importance, but from our perspectives as college students in caffeine-fueled morning classes, and on weekends when drinking seems to be the hobby of choice, it is certainly something to consider.
On the other hand, if I've been too harsh on Romney's religion, here's a positive: he does have pretty good-looking sons, I'll give him that. But are good-looking (adult) children enough of a reason to vote for him? Just ask fans of the Bush twins.
Since Herman Cain, Rick Perry and Michelle Bachman have dropped out, there is little humor left in the primary campaigns (though Gingrich's proposal for a moon base sits tentatively on the line between humor and, ahem, lunacy), and many students (and adults) have begun to tune them out as a result.
As far as I can tell, few people at Bowdoin (aside from those in my American Presidency class) are talking about the Republican nomination contests—even Maine's ongoing caucus—in any depth at all; the clash, or lack thereof, of Santorum and Romney's religions has gone unnoticed.
So vote away, you champions of Mormonism and handsome children. Let's see if Romney can handle the pressure of a general election sans caffeine and alcohol.