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LDS Dems Head to Charlotte This Week For National Convention

This week some members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are gathering at the Democratic National Convention to participate as an organized caucus. According to the Pew Research Center nearly three quarters of all Mormons in the country side with the Republican Party, but LDS Democrats hope their numbers will increase this week.

Crystal Young-Otterstrom  was at home last week getting ready for a trip to Charlotte while her young daughter Betty rocked side to side in a laundry basket behind her.

It’s a scene that’s probably not uncommon for young, politically active Mormon mothers; the pitter patter of tiny feet and the click of a keyboard. But while a majority of her Mormon peers identify as Republicans, Crystal Young Otterstrom is a Democrat.

"I was raised by Republicans, so for a long part of my life I thought I was a Republican," she said. "It was actually going to Brigham Young University that made me realize I was a Democrat."

Young-Otterstrom said after attending several college Republican meetings, she realized her values did not line up with those of the GOP.

Because of her Mormon faith, she said she has a strong desire to help those who are less fortunate than herself. She says the government should play a role in providing some resources for those in need.

"I think individuals should definitely do more, but if you leave it to just individuals not everybody gets help," she said. "It was kind of a difference in roles of government; where I think government’s role is doing the things that won’t natural happen otherwise."

Just nine months ago the Utah Democratic Party created the LDS Democrats Caucus and Young-Otterstrom became the state chair. It has since grown to become the biggest caucus among state Democrats with more than 2,000 members. About 200 LDS Democrats from across the country, including dozens who hail from Utah plan to launch a National Caucus this week at the Democratic Convention in Charlotte.  And Young-Otterstrom said she believes multiple chapters will be born out of the outreach and publicity.

"It will be a great coming together of people from around the country just feeling excited and invigorated and not feeling so isolated anymore," she said.

The Democratic National Committee recently modified the party platform to include full support of gay marriage, but Mormons have typically distanced themselves from the party on that issue as well as abortion. Young-Otterstrom said the caucus is not officially embracing or rejecting the party platform.

Utah Democratic Party Chair Jim Dabakis said he thinks the Republican Party has evolved into something that some members of LDS church can no longer relate to.

"This kind of Ayn Rand, dire capitalism, the survival of the fittest, really doesn’t fit in well with their religious beliefs," he said.

Dabakis said while the Mormon Democratic movement is gaining ground, it’s still too small to have a major influence on a national election.

"This is a long term kind of issue," he said. "This year is very specific and it wasn’t created for one election cycle."

Tim Chambless is an associate professor with the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah. He said the movement likely gained ground as a result of an initial hard-lined reaction to the illegal immigration issue in the state legislature, which the LDS church objected to.

"Utah has been discovered," he said. "We wanted to be discovered, bringing the Olympics here in 2002. We wanted this state to be a welcoming place for the world. Through missionary efforts and job recruitment efforts, we’re welcoming people with diverse backgrounds."

Chambless said the LDS Dems Caucus is a healthy addition to the political landscape, pointing to the fact that Utah used to lead the nation in voter turnout, when it's now closer to the bottom. He said voters here often feel their voice doesn't matter because the state is dominated by one party.

"If you believe that competition is good, whether it’s in a political contest, seeking the better grade, sports, I even say to my students, dating. Competition is good," he said. "You get a better end product as a result with competition.”

LDS Dems are hosting their first national meeting during day one of the convention. It will be headlined by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a fellow Mormon, U.S. Senate Candidate Scott Howell, LDS author and businessman Greg Prince and Mormons for Obama National Director Rob Taber. 

Whittney Evans grew up southern Ohio and has worked in public radio since 2005. She has a communications degree from Morehead State University in Morehead, Kentucky, where she learned the ropes of reporting, producing and hosting. Whittney moved to Utah in 2009 where she became a reporter, producer and morning host at KCPW. Her reporting ranges from the hyper-local issues affecting Salt Lake City residents, to state-wide issues of national interest. Outside of work, she enjoys playing the guitar and getting to know the breathtaking landscape of the Mountain West.
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