GOP U.S. Senate candidate Mike Kennedy caused a bit of a kerfuffle last week when he called a controversial Baptist pastor and apologized to him for Mitt Romney calling him a "religious bigot." Our "Political Insiders" say the move by Kennedy was a significant political misstep.

Pastor Robert Jeffress was selected to give a prayer at the opening of the new U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem. Jeffress has previously made questionable statements, including calling the Mormon religion a "heresy from the pit of hell." Because of this, Romney said he should not have been invited to speak. Kennedy called Jeffress and apologized to him because of Romney's remarks.

Initially, Jeffress said Kennedy had apologized on behalf of all Utahns, but Kennedy released a recorded portion of the phone call that demonstrated that characterization by Jeffress was inaccurate. 

That was a political error according to our "Political Insiders" and readers. Overwhelmingly, those groups sided with Romney, which is not surprising given Utah's majority LDS population.

  • 89% of the Republicans and Democrats who responded to our survey said Romney's criticism of Jeffress was correct. Only 11% of each group said Kennedy was right to apologize.

  • 73% of our readers backed Romney's criticism of Jeffress.

 

Selected anonymous comments:

Kennedy’s angling for the Republican anti-Mormon voters. Don’t quit your day job.

Kennedy seems to be throwing red meat out to Trump supporters, but he's really out of step with Utah voters in general on this.

A person has a right to hold the beliefs they wish whether we agree or not. Is this the type of Senator we will get with Romney, someone who calls those he disagrees with names?

Mike Kennedy is doing anything he can to discredit Mitt Romney. Mitt should have called Robert Jeffress out. Jeffress was invited to appease the far right of the Republican Party. My problem with both candidates right now is that both are too concerned with what to kiss and when than really getting into the issues. Jenny Wilson is beginning to look better all the time.

It is still unclear what Kennedy’s end game is here. Jeffress made these remarks, and there are no points for Kennedy to score by disagreeing just to disagree. Maybe he is hoping to get a job in the Trump administration after losing in June.

I grew up in Dallas. He (Jeffress) put his bigotry on display for all the world to see on his billboards.

Kennedy has no qualifying position of authority in Utah government or the LDS church to make any type of apology or statement. He can only speak for himself and his campaign.

Surprised that Mitt couldn’t be more diplomatic in expressing his feelings About the Pastor. Playing to his base of course, Which he really doesn’t need to. Regardless of who’s right or wrong, they were both successful in getting media coverage over something that is irrelevant to the more important issues they should be addressing. Ain’t election politics great?

First-time players to big-time politics often stumble, Kennedy’s resulted in mud on his face.

Poor Mike. He’s looking for any edge, but this move backfired.

Kennedy’s attempt to criticize his opponent badly misfired. It illustrated Kennedy’s novice status in his effort to score political points with his small base. How politically tone deaf he must be to curry favor with someone who criticized Kennedy’s own religion and the religion of the most of his supporters. It also shows a side of Kennedy’s that betrays his nice guy image.

Mike Kennedy demonstrates incompetence if he cannot understand the meaning of the word bigot. How much religion-bashing is okay for Mr. Kennedy on behalf of his would-be constituents?

Just google Jeffress' comments. Highly uncalled for. Romney is correct on this issue.

I hate to say it but...Romney was right.

No one has the authority to apologize for me. And I think the apology should come from the bigot.

Rev. Jeffress is a religious bigot, and he seems to be proud of that fact. I can't believe Kennedy went out of his way to call him. I'm with Mitt on this one.

Bigots should be called bigots. Why run away from the truth?

Pastor Robert Jeffress' comments about other religions are myopic, bigoted and ignorant. Mitt Romney's assessment and comments were accurate. We all need to be more respectful and inclusive of different faiths and perspectives.

Kennedy is free to say whatever he wants, and I'm free to vote against him.

This flub by Kennedy will go down as one of the worst self-inflicted wounds in political history.

Jeffress is a blooming idiot ... and Mike has no common sense.

While I appreciate that Kennedy is hopeful to be elected, he is not yet so. Thus, he should keep his blanket apology to himself. He does not represent me. If elected, even if I don't vote for him, then it may be appropriate for him to speak on my behalf. That said, I believe that Romney was in good form to call out the callous remarks of the Pastor. I don't want someone backpedaling that excoriation and provide the possibility to encourage such hateful words by someone in the future.

With ballots coming out soon, look for the inexperienced campaign team to continue to make desperate statements to try and find anything to gain traction.

I don't know to whom Kennedy is pandering, but my opinion of him dropped a little. Since Kennedy hasn't been elected by we Utahns to represent us all, he has no right to apologize on our behalf. Presumptive much?

Nobody should be called a bigot for disagreeing with the legitimacy of Mormonism. Even if that disagreement is pointed.

That was a lame move by Kennedy. Good for Mitt for sticking up to a religious bully.

Mitt Romney was absolutely correct in defending his religion. It's pretty ironic that Kennedy shares Governor Romney's same beliefs yet isn't willing to stand for them.

It was a ridiculous, sophomoric stunt by a lightweight.

Kennedy was way out of line and is just trying to get any publicity he can.

Romney was right to call out this guy. Do you think a baptist would step forward and apologize to Mitt if Mitt had told him that "all Baptists are going to hell" or "are servants of Satan." I don't think so. Mike is desperate for any publicity as he can't win but he made a big mistake on this. Whether it was quoted right in the press or not, most Mormons will be offended by his apology and acting like he has the right to speak for all Utahn's or Mormons. A rookie mistake that makes things even tougher for him.

I have never been in a Mitt Romney supporter in any way, but Kennedy keeps making me almost want to donate to Romney's campaign.

Although the pastor's remarks are in line with Christian doctrine, they are not in line with Christian teachings. Romney is correct in labeling him as a bigot because he is intolerant of anything that doesn't align with his own interpretation. Christianity is more than just obtaining salvation through Christ. It includes being Christ-like, and the pastor's remarks were the opposite- especially in the context of Jerusalem.

Kennedy's campaign is obviously not getting traction, so he's grasping any straw he can find.

Even if Romney had been wrong, is this really the tantamount issue of the campaign that Kennedy wants to stake his flag on? Time to fire your campaign manager/volunteer state delegate who is advising you.

Mike Kennedy: Another product of the caucus/convention system. Thankfully we have more than one way for candidates to appear on the ballot.

Not sure what Kennedy was thinking. Jeffress mocked Mormons. Not even Trump supporters here like being mocked.

Romney had no place nitpicking at the man who was asked to say the prayer at the Embassy. His remarks are an embarrassment and somebody needed to say something to Dr. Jeffress. Romney put his foot in his mouth calling Jeffress a bigot. Go back to Massachusetts where you belong Mitt.

I think they're both in the wrong. I don't think anyone should be criticized no matter what is said about them, nor do I believe Kennedy has any authority to apologize on behalf of the state of Utah.

The word "bigot" is emotionally charged and seems like a heated insult, but I feel Mitt Romney was right in his comment because the definition of a bigot is a person who is intolerant towards someone holding different opinions. If Pastor Robert Jeffress said that "Mormonism is a heresy from the pit of hell" then this comment would by definition be bigoted.

I don’t know If Romney was right or not. But it isn’t Kennedy’s job to apologize for someone else, especially a political rival. His motive was to get people talking about him, and it worked.

Very interesting that Kennedy can’t even defend his own religion.

Kennedy chose the wrong fight here. Entirely wrong to defend a well-known bigot. Kennedy was not a feasible option before his comments, but these prove that he doesn’t have the capacity to hold public office.

Governor Romney is entitled to his own opinion and his right to express that opinion. However, the use of the word bigot should always be considered carefully. The meaning and connotation of bigot has been amplified in recent years and must be used very judiciously. 

For Kennedy to jump into this mess was completely stupid and shows that he is not ready for prime time. Romney's tweet was spot on, and most Utah Mormons agree with him.

Much ado about nothing.

I would like to apologize on behalf of all Utahns for Mike Kennedy's apology on our behalf.

Kennedy lost any credibility he may have had with me.

Apologizing "on behalf" of someone else's statement, and also "on behalf" of other people who haven't asked you to do so, is an infantile and pointless stunt. Just shows that Kennedy isn't yet ready to move on from the JV squad. I had some interest in him up to this point, but when it comes to our national politics, I am well and truly fed up with amateur hour.

Kennedy has no standing to apologize on behalf of anyone but himself. By making his statement public, he is trying to place himself in the position of speaking on behalf of all the people of Utah. Let him win the election for Senator and then maybe he can act on our behalf, but not now.

Wow, as someone who respected (but was never voting for) Kennedy, this is probably a fatal error. Kennedy did this solely in an attempt to tap into Jeffress' donor networks. "The enemy of my friend is my friend." Kennedy was trying to get a quick infusion of out of state money to help his sagging campaign. They didn't want to release a tape of Kennedy begging for help from someone who hates Jews, Catholics, and Mormons. Man, Kennedy's campaign is a mess, and this is too large to overcome. 

What a dumb move for Kennedy to call and apologize. It was a political stunt and nothing more. Why would you record the call and not record what the other person said? I'm also skeptical that the recording is of the actual call because you can't hear what Jeffress said- nor is it the whole call. 

Kennedy was right. Either you believe in the teachings of the Bible, or you don't. Mitt is just an opportunist, and I'm not surprised he made comments to tarnish a big day for Christians.

Romney's comments were petty and inappropriate. Jeffress may be a bigot. It takes a bigger person to extend a hand of fellowship to such an individual than it does to sling insults back at them.

Just because Jeffress uses inflammatory statements doesn't make it right for Romney or anyone else to call him names. If you want to have a constructive dialog with people, don't try to humiliate them publicly.

Romney's criticism was uncalled for as the text of the prayer was not controversial nor did it criticize the Mormon faith. Dr. Kennedy showed courage to call and talk to Pastor Jeffress and to come to discover some "common ground" with him. This is how we build positive relationships with people of different faiths.

Kennedy took the high road.

The United States was founded on religious freedom. That means even religions you may disagree with.

Romney was out of line to criticize the President's choice to give the prayer on the day of the celebration of moving the embassy to Jerusalem.

Kennedy had no business apologizing. The pastor was wrong in his past remarks, but Romney should not have commented. So. Both Kennedy and Romney were wrong.

Rude is rude. One ignorant comment does not justify another. We learned this in kindergarten.

Neither spoke well. Mitt knows Jeffress better than does Kennedy. Jeffress has made many unkind remarks, especially about Mormons so his words in the interview about being "Christian" are hypocritical. I feel Kennedy probably is unaware of Jeffress' history. Bottomline, both would have been wiser to have remained silent. Not smart to use name calling on the part of Mitt, but I agree it was the poorest of choices to have Jeffress give the prayer in Jerusalem.

Kennedy is going to lose by a significant margin. The initial claim exposes his weakness and desperation. He has a terribly inexperienced campaign team.

Kennedy is out of touch with Jeffress. He’s just trying to find something to get ahead of Romney.

I am not sure Romney needed to say anything. As the question is asked, however, Romney was right.

They were both wrong.

Mitt Romney has the right to speak on his own. Kennedy errored in making an apology.

I’m kind of in between on this. As a Mormon, I don’t like what Jeffress said, but I am also a very big proponent of free speech. Jeffress has the right to his opinion. I also think the word bigot is used way too often in the political sphere. However, I am more inclined to support Romney in this matter. What Jeffress said is uncivil and no matter whether I agree with Romney’s response, Kennedy DEFINITELY shouldn’t have apologized on his behalf.

Kennedy certainly does not represent Utah if he thinks that Jeffress is owed an apology. It is just an attempt to get free publicity in a race which he stands no chance of winning.

The sentence “Kennedy was right to apologize to Jeffress” makes my skin crawl. Mike’s inexperience is showing.

Kennedy is not very smart to align with a guy who called Mormons a cult. Not sure what he is thinking.

On the surface, I’d say Romney should have ignored it or taken the high road, but I’d have to know more of the specifics to pass final judgment.

Kennedy choosing this issue to make a centerpiece of his campaign and then doubling down on it to produce additional media coverage is among the most stupid campaign moves I have ever seen. So even if he believes what he is saying, why would he make a big issue out of it when it is almost certain that the overwhelmingly Mormon electorate likely to vote in a Republican primary strongly disagrees with him. Jeffress is a religious bigot, not because of what he believes but because of the way he expresses it. It's offensive.

This isn't about who's right here. This is one of those times when silence from both parties would have been the better path. People will say things. So what? Both men have more important things to focus on.