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Hillary Clinton writes op-ed to win over Mormons in Utah: Will it work?

Hillary Clinton has begun to target disenchanted Republican Mormons seeking an alternative to Donald Trump, leaving many torn. 

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    Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks at a rally at Abraham Lincoln High School, in Des Moines, Iowa, Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2016.
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In Utah, a traditionally red state where more than 60 percent of residents are Mormon, it's typically taken for granted that the Republican presidential candidate will earn the most votes. 

But this election is different. Many Mormon Republicans say they are reluctant to vote for Republican nominee Donald Trump, having been turned off by his views on immigration and proposed temporary ban on Muslims, leaving a number of torn voters whom Hillary Clinton hopes to win over. For the first time since 1964, analysts say, a Democratic presidential candidate could have a chance at winning Utah. 

In a guest editorial published in the Deseret News, the newspaper owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, on Wednesday, Ms. Clinton wrote about the importance of religious freedom, comparing Mr. Trump's proposed ban on foreign Muslims entering the country to the historic persecution of Mormons in the United States.

"The issue of religious liberty is an important one in the state, and the notion of a religious test for immigration raises deep concerns," Chris Karpowitz, a director of Brigham Young University's Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy, told The New York Times. "Mormons are sensitive to issues like this because of their own history." 

In the op-ed, Clinton mentions several high-profile Mormons, including 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who in March gave a speech in Utah warning voters that "the prospects for a safe and prosperous future are greatly diminished" by voting for Trump. She also references Utah's Republican Gov. Gary Herbert, who backed Sen. Ted Cruz (R) of Texas and has welcomed Syrian refugees into the state. 

The state's caucuses in March, in which Trump lost to Senator Cruz, earning only 14 percent of the vote, highlighted Mormon voters' distaste for Trump. But when faced with the choice between Trump and Clinton, voters appear to be divided: A recent poll shows Trump in the lead, at 37 percent, and Clinton at 25 percent. 

Utah resident Angie Melton, a Republican who has never voted for a Democrat, tells The New York Times that she will vote for Clinton because "she would be less damaging in terms of world politics.... It doesn't mean that I agree with much of anything she says or her as a person, but I would rather that she win." 

Despite Trump's current unpopularity, Republican state party leaders are optimistic that some Republicans who voice support for Clinton now may have second thoughts come November: "Republicans at this point are a little unhappy with Trump, but they're going to vote for him," said James Evans, chairman of Utah Republican Party, to the Times. 

While Trump and Clinton are still polling highest in Utah, the lack of support for Trump has also carved out a space for third-party candidates, such Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson and Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein.

In Utah, a state with a "strong libertarian streak," there are "strong libertarian polling numbers for [candidate Gary] Johnson, and now you see another guy entering the race because I think there are a lot of voters who are undecided here, unsatisfied," Deseret News opinion editor Hal Boyd told The Huffington Post. In the recent poll, Mr. Johnson, the Libertarian nominee, pulled in 16 percent. 

Mr. Johnson, whose campaign headquarters are located in Salt Lake City, published his own op-ed in the Deseret News last week, calling for "a balance between religious freedom and non-discrimination." The paper will publish another editorial next week by "another guy" mentioned by Mr. Boyd: independent candidate Evan McMullin, a conservative Mormon and former CIA official, who formally announced his candidacy on Wednesday. 

Votes for these candidates, if they are drawn away from Trump, could also ultimately benefit Clinton.

"This is the first time since the mid-1960s that a Democratic presidential candidate could win in Utah," said Peter Corroon, Democratic state party chair, to the Times. "Unfortunately, it’s not because of the Democrat, it's because of the Republican."

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