A smart move by Obama

[UPDATED 02/04/08 — Here is an LDS Church press release about Michelle Obama visiting LDS Church headquarters today and spending time with Apostles Russell Ballard and Quentin Cook. Hat tip to A Soft Answer.]

[UPDATED 01/31/08 — I’ve been getting some hits from people using search engines to see if Barack Obama is a Mormon. Answer: no, though we’d love to have him. Obama is a member of the Trinity Unity Church of Christ, though he has publicly distanced himself from a few of the actions and comments of its retiring senior pastor, Rev. Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr.]

According to the Beehive Standard Weekly — an LDS news source that I encountered for the first time today — the Barack Obama campaign staff is looking to reach out to moderate Latter-day Saints for the general election should McCain and/or Huckabee end up as the Republican candidate:

An important source at the highest levels of the Obama Campaign in Nevada said Thursday that the Obama Campaign is most fearful of Mitt Romney coming out as the Republican candidate as he is dynamic and has a command of economic issues. This revelation came about as the Obama Campaign was inquiring to several Mormon civic leaders about a possible Mormon cross-over vote in the Southwest to Obama if Huckabee or McCain were to be the eventual nominee. The reliable source indicated that the Obama camp is currently implementing a plan to attract Mormon Moderate Republicans to their camp as a second choice to Romney, assuming he doesn’t get the Republican nomination.

If true, this is a smart move for several reasons. First, both the Huckabee and, to a lesser extent, the McCain campaigns have already been involved in attacking or slurring the LDS faith in an effort to counter Romney. From what I can see, there are many Latter-day Saints right now who would frankly refuse to vote for either McCain or (especially) Huckabee for exactly that reason. Most US-based Latter-day Saints have dealt with a lifetime of active anti-Mormon literature and protests from the Religious Right and are largely disgusted thereby.

Second, I suspect that moderate and even liberal Latter-day Saints would be more prone to support Obama rather than Clinton due to the moral baggage that the Clintons would bring back to the White House.

Third, I suspect that many Latter-day Saints would respond to a sincere outreach effort by Obama due to the constant (and, in my opinion, largely erroneous) labeling of Latter-day Saints as racist due to the former policy regarding blacks and the priesthood. It’s interesting to note that Armand Mauss’s sociological research regarding Latter-day Saints’ attitude towards blacks in the late 1960s showed no significant difference with those evinced by white American Protestants or Catholics.1 And as has been well-documented elsewhere, the overwhelming reaction of the LDS Church membership when the policy changed in 1978 was relief and gratitude.

Fourth, while the common caricature of Mormons is as rock-ribbed Republicans, that overlooks the fact that what was the single greatest concentration of Mormons in the world — the population of the state of Utah — kept electing and re-electing Democratic governors for decades. From 1917 until 1985, the governor of Utah was a Democrat for 50 of those 68 years, including a 20-year block from 1965 until 1985. In fact, the single longest-serving Governor (Territorial or State) of Utah, and one of the most popular, was a Democrat: Calvin “Cal” Rampton (1965-1977). Likewise during that same period (1917-1985) at least one of Utah’s US Senators was a Democrat for 52 of those 68 years. Note that this all occurred during a period when Mormons made up a higher percentage of the population of Utah than they did today.

The shift of Mormons away from the Democratic Party over the past 20+ years is, I suspect, due largely to the ‘radicalization’ of the Democratic Party during that time. However, the rise of the Religious Right as a major power base within the Republican Party, particularly with Huckabee’s candidacy, leaves many Mormons uneasy due to the pervasiveness of anti-Mormon literature and attitudes among Evangelical Christians. If the Presidential contest this fall is between a Democratic ticket starring Obama and a Republican ticket with Huckabee and/or McCain, Obama could well be very successful in getting a significant portion of the LDS vote in the Western US. ..bruce..


1 See Mauss, Armand L. All Abraham’s Children: Changing Mormon Conceptions of Race and Lineage (University of Illinois Press, 2003), esp. Chapters 8 and 9.