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Harry Reid to Headline Mormon Gathering in Charlotte

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will meet in Charlotte, N.C., next week with Mormon Democrats. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will meet in Charlotte, N.C., next week with Mormon Democrats. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

As the GOP plans to crown the first Mormon presidential candidate in Tampa, Fla., Mormon Democrats, looking to boost their numbers, are set to meet in Charlotte, N.C., next week.

The meeting — which will feature Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.), who is a Mormon — is being hosted by LDS Democrats, an official caucus within the Utah Democratic Party. The caucus was started in 2011 and has attracted more than 2,000 members.

“This is our first ever national meeting,” said Crystal Young-Otterstrom, who chairs the LDS Democrats.

The meeting is intended to underscore “that not only here in Utah, where we are an official caucus of the Democratic Party, but on the national level, as well, that Mormons are welcome in the Democratic Party, that there are many of us, and we want more, we need them to be involved, and we need them to have a voice.”

She expects about 200 people to attend the meeting. Including Reid, there are four Mormon Democrats serving in Congress: Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Rep. Jim Matheson (D-Utah) and Del. Eni Faleomavaega (D-American Samoa), who were all invited.

An aide to Faleomavaega said he could not attend.

“He for sure would have been there, but we have a big Boy Scouts event in our district,” the aide said, adding that Faleomavaega “is active LDS.”

Matheson, who is in a tough re-election campaign, is also staying home, according to a Utah Democratic Party aide. Efforts to determine if Udall will attend were unsuccessful.

“We want to create a space for people who are LDS Democrats to feel comfortable within the party,” Young-Otterstrom said. “There are a lot of people who really are Democrats in their core beliefs but are just not really sure if they belong or are welcome in the party, and we want them to know that they are, that there is a place for them.”

Democrats are also trying to energize Mormons in an effort to help make Mountain West races more competitive.

“With the LDS community approximately the same size as the American Jewish community, Democrats’ ability to expand the playing field among this constituency creates real opportunities for a number of swing districts and races, especially in Utah and the American west,” the Utah Democratic Party said on the invitation to the LDS Democrats meeting.

Young-Otterstrom said she believes the core principles of Mormonism fit neatly with Democratic principles.

In Mormonism, “there is a wonderful history of working communally, together, to support those who are less fortunate,” she said. “And we still today continue the legacy of helping those who are in need; we have wonderful resources from the church, dedicated to working on poverty and other issues. Those are things that Mormons care deeply about, and those are things that Democrats also care deeply about.”

Those who practice Mormonism, which is a relatively conservative religion, tend to be conservative politically and gravitate to the Republican Party. According to the Utah Democratic Party, just 17 percent of active LDS members identify as Democrats.

Some GOP evangelicals, who question whether Mormons are truly Christians, have spoken out against presumptive Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney over his faith. President John F. Kennedy faced similar bias for being a practicing Catholic from a predominantly Protestant electorate.

Young-Otterstrom hopes the meeting will help like-minded Mormons from around the nation meet each other and find their role within the party.

“We hear from so many [LDS Mormons] that they feel isolated, that they feel alone,” she said. “So many of us are former Republicans, including myself. When you start thinking that maybe you are not a Republican, you feel a little isolated and different from everybody else, and you are not sure where you belong or where you fit.”