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Pro-Obama Mormons Unswayed by Shared Faith With Romney

By Scott Conroy - May 4, 2012

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Brownrigg harbors no illusions about the uphill fight involved in convincing fellow Mormons to vote for Obama but said that he hoped there would be some “wiggle room” in a swing state like Nevada, which has a significant Mormon population and is represented in the U.S. Senate by Harry Reid -- a Mormon Democrat and vocal Obama supporter.

The LDS Church has a rich history of political activism dating to founding prophet Joseph Smith’s 1844 presidential campaign, which ended in his assassination at the hands of an armed mob.

Of the 15 Mormons who are currently serving in Congress, four are Democrats. Still, the perception that Mormons are largely a monolithic voting bloc has become especially ingrained in 2012.

In February’s Nevada GOP primary, for instance, 91 percent of Mormons (who made up about one-quarter of the total vote) cast their ballot for Romney. That number was actually down a bit from the 2008 Nevada primary, when exit polls showed that Romney won 95 percent of the LDS vote in the state.

According to an Obama spokesperson, the president’s campaign does not have a formal outreach program to Mormon voters, but a faith-vote coordinator is slated to begin work at the Chicago headquarters in a few weeks.

The Obama campaign does have one full-time staffer on the ground in Utah, where Romney’s win is a foregone conclusion. So the best use of these Utah-based volunteers is to dispatch them -- as the campaign is doing with Hannah Wheelwright -- to the nearby states of Colorado, Nevada, and perhaps New Mexico, which may be in play this year.

At 37 years old and with four children, Jimmy Rivera boasts a bit more age and life experience than most of his fellow pro-Obama Mormons.

Rivera, who hails originally from Puerto Rico and converted to the LDS faith 12 years ago, is a lifelong Republican who switched his party affiliation last summer after becoming disenchanted by what he viewed as extremism within the Tea Party movement. He was a deputy sheriff before starting his current job working at Walmart.

As an active member of the LDS Democrats, an official caucus of the Utah Democratic Party, Rivera said he plans to be heavily involved in the campaign this summer and is frequently amused by the reaction of friends and colleagues when he tells them he supports the president.

“Most of them are surprised and they get this puzzled look on their face,” Rivera said. “I think Mitt Romney is a good guy. He’s served in the church, been a bishop. I just don’t agree with his views about what government should be doing.”

A common concern among Mormons who support Obama’s re-election is that they are isolated within the church community.

MormonsForObama.org, a website launched in January by four practicing Mormons who live in Seattle and the nation’s capital, serves as a forum for pro-Obama campaign news and commentary for the LDS community, but it also is a reminder to pro-Obama Mormons that they are not alone.

The site has a corresponding Facebook page and has generated about 9,000 page views thus far. Its founders have sold about 200 bumper stickers that say, “I’m voting for Obama and I’m a Mormon,” and have recently begun selling “Mormons for Obama” T-shirts on Etsy.

Laura Saganac, 30, has been a one of the Latter-day Saints (as church members are called) her entire life, served a mission in southern Chile, and attends services at the Seattle temple where she was married in 2005. She works for a global health nonprofit organization and spends her free time as she awaits the birth of her first child writing about health care on MormonsForObama.org.

The site is affiliated with neither the Obama campaign nor the LDS but has a loyal following among a mostly younger, urban crowd.

Saganac says that she is “pretty confident” Obama will be re-elected and does not plan to volunteer for the campaign. For her, the site serves as a way to connect with fellow Mormon progressives who believe, as she does, that Romney represents neither the average American nor the average Mormon.

“It’s just a space for likeminded individuals,” she said. “Our endgame is to represent the diversity of the Church.” 

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Scott Conroy is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at sconroy@realclearpolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter @RealClearScott.

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