“I don’t see how a member of the LDS Church can support someone who is amoral and has shown his amorality since his assessment,” said former Senate majority leader Harry Reid, a Democrat from Nevada and a member of the Church, said in an interview.
Trump’s campaign hopes more Mormons have gone the way of Lee and right-wing radio host Glenn Beck – former critics who came to support Trump.
In 2016, the Democrats didn’t seem to convert many of the Mormons who voted against Trump. Some stayed at home while many others cast a protest vote for Conservative LDS third party candidate Evan McMullin, who received 21
With McMullin in the running and with an expected turnout of more than 2016, both parties see a rare group of potentially compelling voters at a very insurmountable time.
“If we don’t have a third-party ticket with Evan McMullin, we can pull some of these voters into Trump camp,” said McDaniel, Romney’s niece.
McMullin, who is still against Trump, said he thinks some of his supporters would vote for the president, but “most of the people who voted for third parties in 2016 will support Biden in these elections.” He argued that some Republicans voted Trump “out of habit” but have pissed him off since then.
A Biden official admitted that Trump is likely to improve his performance among Mormons in 2016, but the Democrat’s goal is to limit those gains significantly. Some longtime LDS Democratic organizers said Biden had already improved Hillary Clinton’s efforts because they were too focused on Utah.
“The Biden campaign appears to be far more aware of the Latter-day Saint diaspora in the mountains west and south of the Atlantic,” said Rob Taber, a national co-chair of Latter-day Democrats in America.
“It won’t be shocking that Trump wins the Mormon vote, but if it is 10-15 points off the norm in Nevada and Arizona, that’s a big deal,” said Quin Monson, partner at Y2 Analytics and Utah-based polling agency Professor of Political Science at Church-funded Brigham Young University. “It’s the equivalent of Republicans suddenly getting a quarter of the African American vote, and I think it’s within the realm of possibility. You didn’t fully meet Donald Trump.”
So far, the Trump campaign appears to be spending more time promoting Mormon voters. While Pence visited Arizona, there are no plans for Biden or his runmate, Kamala Harris, to attend a Mormon-oriented event. Biden’s advisors believe his Catholicism may appeal to LDS voters as well, but the campaign is not broadcasting advertisements in Arizona that focus on his religion.
Trump is about 5 points behind Biden, according to Arizona poll averages, and LDS voters could be critical if the race intensifies. In 2018, Kyrsten Sinema won massive Maricopa County – which also includes the historically Mormon suburb of Mesa – making it the first Democrat to win a seat in the Arizona Senate since the 1980s.
Trump’s campaign advisors have said they don’t see Maricopa County as a must-see. Instead, they are trying to raise the presidential boundaries in rural Arizona. The LDS enclaves in the White Mountains will be key to this effort.
The public embrace of Trump by some LDS members has created rifts in a community that was once largely monolithic in its politics. Former Arizona State Senator Bob Worsley, a Republican and founder of SkyMall, recently began organizing publicly for Biden after believing that the Trump-focused LDS group that Pence hosted last month implied that the leadership of the Church supported the President.
“I’ve never voted for a Democrat in my life, but we think this man is an abomination,” said Worsley. He believes more Mormons will vote for Biden than in 2016 because “some Hillary’s husband, Bill found a similar lack of example of a good moral person”.
The leadership of the Church, whose members pay close attention to political signals, have endeavored to remain neutral in the race, even as they continue to push Trump back on immigration. In 2018, the Church protested against government policies aimed at separating families at the border.
“We are deeply concerned about the aggressive and insensitive treatment of these families,” it said at the time.
Biden’s campaign hopes Trump’s immigration record will push LDS voters, including the many Hispanics who have joined the Church in recent years, to the Democrats. The campaign is building an LDS volunteer program in which Church members who support Biden reach out to other Mormon friends and neighbors.
“Ultimately, President Trump reflects the political values of most Mormons better than Joe Biden,” said Mike Noble, partner and chief researcher at Phoenix-based electoral bureau OH Predictive Insights. But Trump would be “wrong” to believe he had a ban on LDS voters, he added.
“Whether they can endure his erratic behavior,” said Noble, “will likely be the determining factor for many Mormons.”