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Romney vs. Huntsman

The Washington Post writes about what could be one of the most interesting political stories of 2011: Mitt Romney vs. Jon Huntsman. In fact, both Republicans could stake their early presidential candidacies on how they fare in New Hampshire.

A showdown between Huntsman, 50, and Romney, 63, would likely be the most bitter of the coming election. The respective former governors of Utah and Massachusetts have vast fortunes, silver tongues and great hair. They are also distant cousins, descended from a Mormon apostle who played a key role in the faith's founding. The two men enjoyed the early support of powerful and devout fathers and performed the church's missionary work - Romney in France during the Vietnam War and Huntsman in Taiwan. For years, the clans remained close, until the two scions sought to lead the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, a coveted post that promised to boost political prospects. The Games went to Romney, and the family bonds froze over when Huntsman endorsed Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) over Romney in the 2008 presidential contest.

And on the issue of their Mormon faith, as we've heard before, Romney is more BYU (where he got his undergrad degree) while Huntsman is more University of Utah (which he attended).

Polls demonstrate that Mormons overwhelmingly prefer Romney, signaling a schism that some Huntsman supporters welcome. Advocates for the ambassador's presidential bid, speaking carefully on background, argue that there is a meaningful distinction in how Romney and Huntsman practice their faith.

Advocates for Huntsman describe him as nowhere near as devout or defined by his church affiliation. Huntsman is a cultural Mormon, they explain, much in the way people can be culturally Jewish but not keep kosher, or culturally Catholic but not attend daily Mass.