To many voters, Romney and Huntsman therefore raise a thorny question: is it wrong to oppose candidates because you dislike or fundamentally disagree with their faith? Some would call that bigotry; others a matter of personal judgment. Either way, when voters explore LDS theology, a good portion seems to decide that the basic premise of the faith is so stupendously unlikely that the judgment of anyone who buys into it is fundamentally flawed.
Latter-day Saints believe that in 1827, Smith, a farmer's son from upstate New York, experienced a revelation in which Moroni (the angel from Salt Lake City's temple) appeared and told him to dig a hole in a local hillside. He apparently discovered a book made from golden plates inscribed with illegible hieroglyphics. By using some diamond-encrusted spectacles and occasionally peering into a hat that had a brown rock in the bottom of it, he mysteriously found himself able translate these elaborate symbols. The result, when the golden plates were fully transcribed, was a new scripture: The Book of Mormon.
Mormons study this text in tandem with the Old and New Testaments, as a sort of third holy book. While the Bible is set largely in the Middle East, Smith's creation tells a history of the Americas from 600BC to roughly AD400. It posits that, after his resurrection, Jesus visited the continent for a period of weeks or months. The fundamentals of how their church is organised and the moral code by which members are expected to live are outlined in the Doctrine and Covenants.
When first written, a good portion of the Doctrine and Covenants was devoted to an endorsement of polygamy, which Mormons practiced energetically during the first 60 years of their church's existence. Other bits railed against tea, coffee and alcohol. But in time, the polygamous lifestyle began to attract criticism. Fortunately, Latter-day Saints believe that the covenants can be amended whenever the church's serving president announces that God has instructed him to make an alteration.
Such an event occurred in the 1890s, when Utah wanted to join the US but was prevented from doing so because of hostility towards polygamy. Essentially, the church announced that God decided suddenly to declare the practice immoral (the roughly 30,000 surviving polygamists in Utah are members of fundamentalist sects). It occurred again in the 1970s, when society became uneasy about a Mormon doctrine that banned people of colour from the priesthood; again, God authorised a change that opened it up to "all worthy males".
On a spiritual front, Mormons are encouraged to follow a moral code akin to evangelical Christians, who believe abortion, swearing and sex outside of marriage is bad news. The faith is focused around family life and three-hour church services each Sunday are presided over by a lay ministry of male patriarchs. Provided members pray regularly and follow the church's moral code, they expect, after death, to spend eternity in a multi-tiered Heaven, alongside their extended families.
Do Romney and Huntsman buy into this? We must accept that they do. Is that a big deal? Some theologians believe so. A religion which still accepts the possibility of divine inspiration can present conflicts of interest for a head of state. "If you're a mainstream Christian, you can say that you simply believe in the New Testament, God has said all he's going to say. In the LDS, that isn't the case," Kathleen Flake, a professor of US Religious History at Vanderbilt University, said. "They believe the leader of the church today still literally speaks to God."
What would happen, therefore, if a church leader instructed a Mormon president to nuke Iran? In theory, the president would have to push the red button. What might occur if a Mormon president conducted foreign policy according to instincts derived from his faith? On paper, given the church's belief that Jesus visited the Americas, he would set great store by the concept of American exceptionalism. Most pressingly, can a man who belives in the fundamental truth of a Victorian story that revolves around gold-detecting angels and buried treasure do the most important job in the world? In 18 months, we may find out.