Mitt Romney, former governor of Massachusetts, has filed the necessary papers with the Federal Election Commission that will permit him to raise money for a coming campaign for president. Romney has been a successful CEO of Bain & Company in Boston, which he saved from decimation, and a salvage artist also for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. That enterprise was floundering badly under the weight of bribes and resignations before he took over.

According to Internet sources, Romney, as governor of Massachusetts, supported a permanent ban on assault weapons, voluntary measures to deal with greenhouse gas emissions, the right of state troopers to arrest and try to deport suspected illegal immigrants and stem cell research using surplus embryos from fertility clinics but not therapeutic cloning. Abortion he opposed when running for governor, but he also promised not to change the pro-choice laws of Massachusetts. Later he said that he wished the national law could reflect his own pro-life position.

Romney sounds like a conservative Republican working hard not to offend moderates, and that alone could cause trouble for him with the right wing of his party which requires one hundred per cent allegiance on its issues. But Romney has another problem, and that is his Mormon religion. It would not be an issue for every Mormon. Certainly it was not for his father, George Romney, when he ran for president in 1968. That Romney stumbled when he told a reporter he had been “brainwashed” into supporting the Vietnam War by the U.S. military while touring Southeast Asia. Nobody mentioned his religion or gave a thought either to the Mormonism of Stewart and Morris Udall, a couple of Democrats from Arizona, or to that of Senate majority leader Harry Reid today.

Mitt Romney’s problem is with the right wing of his party which has been fighting hard to put the church at the center of the state. A presidential rival of Romney, Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas, went so far as to hold up a confirmation vote on Janet Neff for the federal bench because she had attended a same-sex commitment ceremony of the daughter of long-time neighbors. He finally relented, but to turn a private social occasion into a political issue was absurd. As Harvard law professor Charles Fried told the New York Times, “people go to parties for all sorts of reasons.” It was also typical of the Republican right wing.

So Romney, beset by the church-state stance of many in his party, faces the most serious questions about his faith since John F. Kennedy, the first Catholic to be elected president, ran in 1960. Kennedy met the matter head-on, declaring to the Houston, Texas Ministerial Association that he believed “in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute.” Romney is no polygamist, as some Mormons have been. Nor is there any evidence that he shares the views on women held by some in his church. Nonetheless, a clear statement from him putting the Constitution first would be helpful with moderates though it might not gladden the hearts of the right wing. To complicate the situation further, some conservative Republicans do not consider the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints to be a true branch of Christianity in any case.

Mitt Romney is a capable person with an admirable record who might well make a good  president. But he’s in a difficult spot. It would be better for him if he were a Baptist–or a Democrat.