Unless he gets hit by a bus, Mitt Romney is going to be the Republican nominee and be given the opportunity to lose in the election this fall.

I am not being a partisan liberal in saying that. He will lose. He has done some things right; announcing he won't take any taxpayer financing was smart. It means he can do what Sen. Barack Obama was able to do in 2008 and raise an unlimited amount of money and spend twice as much money as his opponent, whose name was on the campaign finance reform law and who couldn't very well renege on his own policy.  Unfortunately, he can't also do what Sen. Barack Obama did and sucker the other guy into a commitment before backing out, so that playing field is simply level. Instead of one candidate spending as much as both candidates combined spent in 2004, we'll have two doing that - and then some. We could have our first $2 billion election campaign.

What Romney has going against him is religion. In March, during the Republican presidential primary, a Langer Research Associates exit poll found that 73 percent of Louisiana Republicans claimed it mattered that a candidate shares their religious beliefs and 41 percent said it matters a lot.  A Pew Research poll had Santorum doing twice as well as Romney among voters who felt religion was important. Obviously, Louisiana is not the entire U.S. but if it's accurate it shows Mitt Romney will likely generate mediocre Bob Dole 1996 levels of support, not enthusiastic George Bush of 2004 ones.  Romney does not share the religious beliefs of most Americans, being a Mormon, so if that really is a barometer, he is in trouble. Maybe Republicans need to lighten up.

If Romney does win, it won't be the first time a candidate defied cultural mores; the first Republican president, Thomas Jefferson, was branded an atheist by opponents because of his commitment to separation of church and state. The first modern G.O.P. president, Abraham Lincoln, was extraordinarily difficult to pin down on religion, just like Jefferson. He didn't belong to any church yet he got elected just fine.  I certainly can agree those people of 1860 were an exceptional generation of Americans but surely Republicans of 2012 have something going for them also when it comes to changing why presidents are chosen?

Michael Medved, writing in USA Today, says Lincoln was able to successfully shift the debate away from his religion and toward the merits of a liturgical society and that may be the way to go as a campaign strategy for the Republican nominee now as well. Romney does well there in comparison to Obama.  He worked for two years as a missionary and has enormous credibility  among his own (no skepticism about an abortion-supporting Catholic, a la John Kerry) whereas Obama only seemed to remember to talk religion when election season kicked in, even saying Jesus told him to raise taxes - “I actually think that’s going to make economic sense. But for me as a Christian, it also coincides with Jesus’ teaching that ‘for unto whom much is given, much shall be required”.  Americans are also less concerned about about specific religions today, despite what exit polls show when there are multiple Republicans on the ballot. We got a Catholic president in 1960, John Kennedy, and though it took some cheating to get him there most Americans thought he did a good job once he arrived. Obama barely mentioned religion at all in 2008, the only time it came up was when his church pastor turned out to be a  conspiratorial racist.

Do you know President Obama's religion?  Offhand, I don't. There's never been a religious test for public office yet.  That doesn't mean one isn't implied.  No successful candidate is going to run claiming to be an atheist and none of them will apologize for pretending to be religious even if they aren't.  Atheists are one of the minorities it is still okay to stereotype so their feelings won't be hurt.