Meet Mitt. He's Mormon.

(AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
Yesterday, Mitt Romney formally announced his candidacy for president. All three nightly newscasts covered the announcement, but not at the top of the show: Romney was the sixth story on ABC's "World News Tonight" and the ninth on the "Evening News" and NBC "Nightly News."

Romney has long been talked about as a legitimate presidential candidate, but he has not gotten the media attention that some of the other frontrunners have. (Newsbusters complains that Romney's announcement got 1/54th as much coverage on the "Early Show" that Barack Obama's did.) Romney isn't quite polling at Obama levels, and he's still far behind Republican candidates Rudy Giuliani and John McCain. But he is a top-tear candidate with good fundraising prospects and a "great chance to be the nominee," according to Hotline editor Chuck Todd.

Romney's primary problem, at this early stage in the campaign, is that a lot of Americans don't know who he is. And if they do, there's a good chance that they know him mainly for one thing: his religion. The press corps has jumped all over Romney's Mormonism – it was the focus of Gloria Borger's "Evening News" piece on Romney's announcement last night, as well as the subject of numerous stories in major newspapers.

Is the focus on Romney's religion fair? In a CBS News poll, 27 percent of those surveyed said they wouldn't vote for a Mormon Republican presidential candidate. So Romney's faith is certainly a legitimate issue. But an earlier CBS News poll showed that a similar, if slightly smaller, percentage of the population said they wouldn't vote for a female or African-American candidate either. And while reporters have certainly discussed Hillary Clinton's sex and Obama's race, they have also looked at other angles when covering those candidates.

Coverage of Obama, for example, tends to get into his rapid rise, his past indiscretions, and his inexperience, while Clinton coverage often focuses on her position on the Iraq war. Romney has an interesting back story – he's a Republican who had political success in Massachusetts, and he has been credited with rescuing the Salt Lake City Olympics – but his Mormonism has largely been the focus of stories about his candidacy. And if that doesn't change, it may end up defining it.

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