While Romney’s religion has typically been treated as a highly sensitive and in some ways taboo topic, some Republicans say it’s just a matter of simple ethnic politics — the same way an Italian-American or Jewish candidate would benefit from cultural solidarity in a political campaign.

“I think it’s very much like Catholics were in 1960 with JFK. It’s like, like him or not, here is our chance to be mainstreamed,” said Nevada conservative activist Chuck Muth, who supports Newt Gingrich but expects more than a few voters to “go with [Romney] simply because he’s part of their religion.”

Mormon support for Romney has rarely grabbed the spotlight of the 2012 campaign, but it has been present throughout, at his rallies and in his finance reports. From filling the seats at an event to upping the number of individual donations in a fundraising quarter, Romney has been able to count on a baseline of support that other candidates have lacked.

There’s nothing unusual about that in American politics — Kennedy and Joe Lieberman and, for that matter, Barack Obama — all had ethnic and religious followings that took special pride in their accomplishments. Romney’s just the first member of his faith to reach such political prominence.