CHARLOTTE – Mormon Democrats got a boost Tuesday when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., told an estimated 300 faithful, “Ladies and gentlemen, be proud of who you are.”
Reid spoke to the Latter Day Saints Democrats Tuesday afternoon at the Holiday Inn Uptown Charlotte in an effort to boost the number of Mormons who vote for Democrats or join their party.
A Pew Research Center study found that 80 percent of Mormons nationwide identify with Republicans while only 17 percent identify with Democrats.
“I’m a Democrat because I’m a Mormon,” Reid said.
Reid told those attending not to back down, no matter what their neighbors think. “Do everything you can in the next 10 weeks to help [President] Barack Obama, whether you live in Utah, Idaho, or wherever you live in America,” Reid said.
Reid recalled an instance when he went to Washington and his son was a freshman in high school. He said when his son told a friend that he was a Democrat, the friend responded, “I didn’t know Mormons could be Democrats.”
Reid and others pointed to social welfare policies supported by Democrats that allow them to find some common ground with Mormons. In addition, he said Mormons could identify with Democrats’ support for environmental protection laws.
Reid acknowledged that Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney is a Mormon, adding that he’s not the first Mormon to seek the presidency.
Joseph Smith, founder of the Latter Day Saints movement, ran for president in 1844, Reid said.
More recent Mormons to seek the nation’s highest elected office include Romney’s father, former Gov. George Romney, R-Mich., along with former U.S. Rep. Mo Udall, D-Ariz., former Gov. John Huntsman, R-Utah, and current GOP U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, Reid said.
Scott Howell, the Democratic U.S. Senate nominee in Utah, said he too was proud to call himself a Latter Day Saints Democrat.
“This is a monumental moment for the Latter Day Saints faith,” Howell said.
Among those attending Tuesday’s function was 28-year-old Rob Cooper from Alexandria, Va. He’s a recent law school graduate.
“I served a mission,” Cooper said. “I’ve been in the Mormon church my whole life.”
While Cooper describes himself as a independent voter, he says that he identifies more with the Democratic Party than the Republican Party.
“I think right now they’re the big tent party,” Cooper said of the Democrats. “I’m an independent, but also a centrist.” He said he sees Democrats as being willing to reach more across party lines.
“There are issues of social justice and economic fairness,” Cooper added. “There’s no reason in my mind why the state shouldn’t be involved in that.”
On their Web page, LDS Democrats offer to reconcile Democrats’ position on social issues with those of the Mormon church. The LDS Democrats say that the Mormon church “opposes elective abortion for personal or social convenience,” but allows for exceptions in specific circumstances.
Regarding gay rights and same-sex marriage, the LDS Democrats say that the church is “unequivocally committed to defending the bedrock foundation between a man and a woman.” However, it says that the church has taken an active role supporting non-discrimination ordinances for gays.
Barry Smith is an associate editor of Carolina Journal.