The first day of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte was marked by a number of caucus meetings. But on opposite ends of downtown, two disparate groups met, both with uniquely strong voices this election cycle: Mormons and members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
The two groups couldn't be more different. But both represent a small minority with an especially strong message this election season. Members of the Church of Latter Day Saints, popularly known as the Mormons - the religion of Republican candidate Mitt Romney - have been thrust into the spotlight this election cycle.
Meanwhile, buttressed by a series of federal and state policy victories, LGBT Democrats are feeling stronger than ever before. And they can boast their largest-ever cohort at the convention, with over 500 delegates present from all 50 states.
However, the LGBT issues remain some of the most controversial of the election, with gay marriage at the top of hit-list for cultural conservatives.
"I just want to start with, 'Wow!' To borrow a slogan, you've come a long way baby," 10-time convention-goer and LGBT caucus head Rick Stafford said at his group's caucus on Tuesday.
"We gather here today as a week of celebration for the LGBT Americans and the success of the Obama administration and the Democrats in congress," Stafford added, highlighting the passage of anti-LGBT hate crimes legislation, more money allocated to HIV/AIDS research, anti-bullying education policies and pro-transgender legislation.
He also highlighted the two most major changes in U.S. policy for LGBT Americans these past four years - the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell and the president's support of gay marriage.
Meanwhile, across town in the Holiday Inn Uptown, Democrats of the Mormon faith met to show not every member of their church is a Mitt Romney supporter this year. In true Mormon style, the meeting started with a prayer and ended with "non-adult beverages" in the adjoining room.
"I am a Democrat because I am a Mormon," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the most prominent LDS Democrat, said at the meeting. The event marked the first-ever LDS Dems caucus. It was hosted by the Utah State Democratic Party.
"A presidential election is not about religion," Reid continued. "It's about values." Reid is the senior most Mormon in the U.S. government and a strong believer in the idea that LDS values match up more clearly with the Democratic Party platform.
To further illustrate this idea, Reid named a number of Democrat or moderate Republican Mormons, including LDS founder and prophet Joseph Smith, who ran for president in 1844 on a "very progressive ticket" that espoused anti-slavery and pro-bank regulation policies.
He also named Mitt Romney's father, George, and former 2012 presidential candidate Jon Huntsman, both of whom he called strong moderate voices.
Less visible than their LGBT convention compatriots, LDS Dems are not a small group. They have over one million members in the U.S., LDS Dems Chairman Crystal Young-Otterstrom said. However, unlike the LGBT crowd, which has been recognized at the convention since 1988, the LDS group does not even have official caucus rooms yet.
Before singing "have I done any good?" a traditional Mormon song about service to others, Young-Otterstrom made a statement meant to rattle the Republican establishment in Utah and push Mormon politics even further to the forefront - "We are going to make Utah a swing state!"
Echoing these words, Utah State Democratic Party Chairman Him Dabakis said he understands why Mormons from all over the U.S. would be proud of Mitt Romney, just as African-Americans felt a special kinship with then Senator Barack Obama when he was running in 2008.
"It's a Mormon moment [and] we get that," Dabakis told RTTNews. But "Dems have a big tent and Dems want LDS people, he added, saying the "Mormon touch" is needed inside the party of the president.
As for Mitt Romney himself, Dabakis was reluctant to criticize the former LDS church leader and Massachusetts governor, saying "I have thousands of reasons to not vote for him. Want me to name them?"
by RTT Staff Writer
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