If Tuesday’s groundbreaking moment fell softly, it is partly because the echoes of 2008 have not faded. Not only did the campaign lead to the elevation of Obama, but Hillary Clinton nearly shattered the glass ceiling in her effort to win the Democratic nomination and Sarah Palin made history as the first female Republican vice-presidential candidate.
But it is also because Romney has long been laying the groundwork for this moment.
This is his second run for president, and his Mormon faith has been a source of curiosity, with journalists probing his years as a bishop and examining his relationship with church leaders in Salt Lake City.
Many say it was inevitable that a Mormon would one day reach this benchmark. Founded in the United States, Mormonism is a deeply American religion and many of its adherents believe the nation’s founding documents were divinely inspired. Though the church tries to remain neutral in elections, Mormons are encouraged to be politically active and have long participated at every level of government.
They have also been active in both parties, though polls show the vast majority of Mormons are politically conservative.
In 1843, Smith asked all the declared candidates to come to the defense of Mormons, who had suffered persecution in Missouri and elsewhere. Unsatisfied with the response, he ran for president in 1844, essentially as a protest candidate. He was killed that year in Illinois.
A century ago the notion of a Mormon occupying the presidency was inconceivable.
“This is in a way a natural development in the history of Mormonism,” said Jon Meacham, a journalist who has written extensively on politics and religion. “Joseph Smith and the leaders of the church clearly saw America as the new Jerusalem, and therefore for an adherent of the faith to have such a central role in the life of a nation would have been something they dreamed of.”