For the first time ever on Tuesday, Democrats from the Church of Latter Day Saints held a convention caucus meeting. The group of LDS Dems, numbering around 75 at the gathering, made clear they were Democrats because they were Mormons and that Republican candidate Mitt Romney's values were not in line with their own.
The group varied widely across ages, races and geographic locations, but the gathering was hosted by the Utah Democratic Party. The Utah party chairman told RTTNews about the importance of LDS members to Democrats.
"Democrats have a big tent and Democrats want LDS people," Utah Democratic Party Chairman Jim Dabakis told RTTNews at the caucus meeting Tuesday afternoon.
"It's a Mormon moment. We understand that," Dabakis added, saying a Mormon touch would be good for the party. Not one to shy away from critiquing his peers across the aisle, Dabakis added there were a thousand reasons for Mormons to not vote for Mitt Romney.
"I give tremendous credit to the Republican Party - both in Utah and nationally - they have been able to distort the Democratic position and make it appear as though there is something inherent about the Republican Party that clicks with Mormons," Dabakis added.
"The church is nonpartisan," he told RTTNews. "And unlike Republicans, I think they are serious about it. I think they really do - the church itself and the top leadership really do want a bipartisan church."
In an uncharacteristic move by a party leader, Dabakis admitted the Dems hold just as much responsibility for the lack of LDS members as the Republicans. "It may have been our Democratic party's problems," he said. "Maybe we did not open our tent big enough."
But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, also present at the event, might disagree with Dabakis. Reid is a Nevada Democrat who converted to Mormonism in college. He strongly believes Democratic values sync more closely with LDS values than Republican ones.
Unlike Mitt Romney, who rarely speaks in detail about his faith and his past as a church leader, Reid and other Mormons at the gathering are bringing their religion to the forefront of their political life - and linking the two.
"I didn't know Mormons could be Democrats," Reid said a young Republican told his son in high school. "For thirty years I have been trying to change that perception."
"As I've indicated many, many times, I'm a Democrat because I am a Mormon," Reid told the assembled crowd. He went onto highlight how Joseph Smith, the LDS church founder ran for president in 1844 on a "very progressive ticket."
Reid also spoke of George Romney - the father of the Republican presidential candidate - Morris Udall and Jon Huntsman, three other LDS members whose moderate voices were stifled by the conservative GOP base.
"A presidential election is not about religion. It's about values," Reid added, saying "the purpose of government is to create opportunity for everyone" and "every member of our church should be an environmentalist," two very Democratic values espoused in the Mormon values of service and caring.
"How can one not ever be a Democrat when they read in Mosiah chapter four about giving service," Utah senate candidate asked the crowd, echoing Reid's words.
"In essence I believe I am a Democrat because of my faith, not in spite of it [because of] the intersection of our values and the policy," he added.
After speeches by Senate Candidate Scott Howell and Reid, the highlight of the event, Mormons of all ages and faiths - but from one party - mingled over food and "non-adult beverages." RTTNews spoke with two LDS Dems delegates about why they chose the Democratic Party over the Republican.
"It's very exciting to be affiliated with other people who not only hold my religious values but also see the value in the Democratic party and how it harmonizes with the beliefs of our church," Jamie Hartley told RTTNews.
Hartley, from Alpine, Utah, has a special story. The 35-year-old suffers from the epidermolysis bullosa, an inherited genetic disorder that causes skin blisters to form in response to even minor trauma.
"I live with a severe genetic illness," Hartley told RTTNews, "but I have had a lot of support through family - but also through government help; a lot of government help through Medicaid and social security."
Hartley, whose hands remain hidden behind tight bandages, is an accomplished artist living and working with her husband. Her skills - education - and her life - time to be married - are thanks to more time given to her through extensive government care.
"Right now I feel like I represent thousands of people who are maybe home in bed who don't have the energy or the time to come and have a voice politically to say 'we need affordable health care,'" Hartley added. "I want to be that voice for them."
Crystal Young-Otterstrom, the head of LDS Dems and a young mother, also wants to be a voice for others.
"There are over 1 million LDS Dems," she said at the event. "We are going to make Utah a swing state!"
Before leading the room in a rendition of the Mormon hymn, "Have I done any good?" which focuses on the importance of service, Young-Otterstrom became emotional while summing up how she feels about the intersection of her faith and her politics.
"We are here, we are Latter Day Saints and we are Democrats. We are in harmony with our religion," she said. "We don't have to reconcile our beliefs. And we don't have to change who we are."
by RTT Staff Writer
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