It looks like the race between Mitt Romney and John McCain in Michigan is going to be a lot tighter than was initially expected. Hailing from a very prominent Michigan family, Mitt Romney was supposed to be running away with this thing. What's going on here? Although all of the talk about Mitt Romney's "Mormonism" seems to have subsided somewhat lately, I wonder if the innuendo campaign hasn't already achieved it's goal. It's interesting to contrast the negative impact that religion has had on Mitt Romney's campaign with the essential role it's playing in Mike Huckabee's bid for the White House. Help you or hurt you, there's no denying that religion plays a critical role when the American people are choosing a president.
I took a few Political Science classes back at McGill. I found them to be a "fluffy," GPA-boosting counterweight to courses like the first-year Ph.D. Econometrics seminar that my Honours Economics adviser counseled me to take (I got a B+ in the seminar but my brain still hurts twenty years later). In any event, a Political Science professor would refer to religion as a "cleavage" in American politics--something that clearly delineates and divides people.
Having grown up in Canada, the influential role of religion in choosing American political leaders took some getting used to. For most of Canada's history, the leadership of the major federal political parties has alternated between Anglophones and Francophones. The fact that most of the Anglophones were Protestant and the Francophones Catholic didn't factor into the analysis. In Canada, the primary "cleavage" is language, not religion.
What's the point of all this? Well, a lot of my Canadian friends think it's weird that Americans place so much emphasis on a candidate's religion. It strikes me as odd as well, although no more strange than choosing a Prime Minister based on his or her native language. That's pretty weird too, if you ask me.