In this wide valley where the twin spires of the Mormon temple dominate the landscape and some neighborhoods have a Mormon chapel every few blocks, Mitt Romney’s bid for president is both a proud sign of progress and a cause of trepidation.
Many Mormons here are rooting for Mr. Romney, a fellow church member whose success in business, Adonis looks and wholesome family tableau seem to them to present the ideal face of Mormonism to the world. Among the Republican front-runners, Mr. Romney, former governor of Massachusetts, recently was the leader in campaign fund-raising; his candidacy is, for many Mormons, a historic moment of arrival.
“He represents the best of what the church can produce,” said Kenneth W. Godfrey, 73, a historian of Mormonism and of this valley about 80 miles north of church headquarters in Salt Lake City.
But even for the many Mormons who support Mr. Romney, the moment is fraught with anxiety because his candidacy is bringing intense scrutiny to their church, and could exacerbate longstanding bigotry.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as the Mormon Church is called, has been fighting for legitimacy since its founding 177 years ago in upstate New York. The church’s first prophet, Joseph Smith Jr., was killed by a mob in Illinois and his followers fled from persecution and settled in Utah.
While Mormons are by now successfully integrated and prospering in the American mix, memories of that persecution are still fresh. Many current members can trace their great-great-grandparents to the church’s earliest pioneers, and children grow up reading their ancestors’ original diaries. Many Mormons fear that Mr. Romney’s campaign may reopen old wounds.
“I thought we might get mud thrown at us,” said Lula DeValve, 82, a retired teacher and a Democrat who volunteers with the League of Women Voters.
John Hatch, 30, a history student at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, said, “What most Mormons desire is acceptance.”
“We see ourselves as normal,” Mr. Hatch said. “We struggle with those outsiders who see us as weird ”” the magic underwear stuff,” a reference to the ritual garments that Mormons are supposed to wear under their clothing.