Pro-Obama Mormons Unswayed by Shared Faith With Romney

Pro-Obama Mormons Unswayed by Shared Faith With Romney

By Scott Conroy - May 4, 2012

In many ways, Hannah Wheelwright fits the typical profile of a young volunteer for President Obama's re-election campaign.

Wheelwright, 19, grew up in northern Virginia before heading out West to Utah to pursue a political science degree and becoming active in her college’s Democratic Party chapter. Now a sophomore, she plans to spend the summer helping to organize road trips to neighboring Colorado for out-of-state volunteers through a fellowship she received from the Obama campaign.

But as a practicing Mormon on the conservative campus of Brigham Young University, which happens to be Mitt Romney’s alma mater, Wheelwright’s support for Obama is often met with mystified reactions from her peers.

“People have come up to me and said, ‘Wait, Hannah, I know you’re a Democrat, but who are you going to vote for?’ ” Wheelwright said. “Because they think that Mitt Romney being a Mormon will somehow change my vote. But it doesn’t.”

Among a religious group known for its at times insular and self-reliant communities, the Mormon faith has a long tradition of independent political thinkers.

While Romney may have a lock on the Mormon vote come November, there is a significant subsection of younger, liberal-leaning church members who are emphatic supporters of Obama and who cannot relate to Romney as a politician, despite their shared faith.

With just over 6 million Mormons living in the United States, members of the historically American religion compose about 2 percent of the nation’s population. Obama supporters within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are a tiny minority within that minority,  but they are typically not shy about stating why they are working against the man who would be the first member of their faith to reach the White House.

Wheelwright acknowledged that it would be a “big deal” if the nation elected a Mormon president but said she resented the sentiment that she frequently encounters among fellow BYU students, who assume she will vote for Romney simply because of their shared religious affiliation.

“The fact that I’m a Mormon is why I’m voting for President Obama instead of Mitt Romney,” Wheelwright said. “I’m a Democrat because I’m a Mormon. I think there’s so many things in my faith that do promote certain policies in the Democratic Party, and a lot of the reason I support President Obama is his dedication to social programs, equality, and those types of things.”

Wheelwright said that Mormon services, in which members of the congregation are encouraged to stand up and speak, have helped her feel more comfortable about sharing such beliefs.

It’s a skill set that 28-year-old law school student Timothy Brownrigg also developed as PR director for the BYU Democrats during his undergraduate days, and that he now plans to utilize on Obama’s behalf in Ohio before beginning his career at a Cleveland-area law firm.

Brownrigg found “quite a few” students at BYU were on board with Obama’s 2008 campaign, but added that it has much more difficult to find politically likeminded members of his faith outside Utah this year, when a Mormon candidate will be the Republican nominee.

“Now that I’m not at BYU and I’m not around a Mormon student population, I am seeing a little bit more pushback from my friends at my congregation out here because it’s just sort of accepted,” he said. “Everyone’s excited that Mitt Romney’s running for president.”

Like several other Mormons interviewed for this story, Brownrigg paused to reflect before answering a question about whether he would feel proud if Romney were elected, in spite of his own support for Obama.

“Pride might not be the right word, but I don’t know what would be the right word,” he said. “It would be cool to have a Mormon president, but not this Mormon president.”

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

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