In regard to Nevada, most political pundits are focusing on which way the Latino vote will sway. While this is indeed an extremely important part of the state’s electorate, this focus has taken attention away from another key group within the state – the Mormon population.
In exit polls conducted after the Republican primary in February in Nevada, approximately 25 percent of the electorate identified as Mormon. This high percentage speaks to the enthusiasm of Mormon voters as they actually only make up about 12 percent of the state’s population. The presence of this religion-based culture is felt in the state through a large Mormon presence in Nevada politics and deep sway within the business community.
The political impact of Mormon voters is felt mostly inside the Republican Party. This force was apparent during the Republican primary as Mormons showed up in robust numbers at polling places in support of Mitt Romney. Exit polls conducted in February show that nearly all of the Mormons in the Nevada electorate voted for Romney during the primary and a similar result occurred in 2008 when he first ran for President. This is supported by the fact that most Mormons in Nevada live in rural communities in the southern part of the state, precincts that historically have voted Republican.
It seems that Mormons want all other Mormons to vote for Mitt Romney also as they are aggressively reaching out to their community through their own ready made church networks. Mormons in Nevada are cross checking church directories with voter registration data to identify and contact potential Romney backers. There is even a smartphone app that helps Mormon Romney supporters find each other. The app, LDS Tools, lists phone numbers and addresses for local stake members. This has become a reliable tool for finding Romney volunteers during voter outreach, despite church rules that forbid the use of LDS resources for political purposes.
Strategists on both sides agree that the Mormon electorate in Nevada does not have the power to swing the entirety of the state. However, Republican strategists hope that in close elections – like this year seems to be in Nevada – that even the slightest increase in Mormon turnout with Romney on top of the ticket could make just the difference needed.
While Republican strategists are obviously focused on the pull of Mormon voters in the state, recent events suggest that Democrats also understand the impact Mormons could have in a tight Nevada presidential election. For starters, Democrats have been pushing out a statement said by Romney last year to the Las Vegas Review Journal in regard to the housing market. Despite the fact that the foreclosure crisis has devastated suburban communities in the state, as they are second highest in the nation in foreclosed homes and the highest unemployment rate in the country, Romney said that he preferred to let the housing market, “run its course and hit bottom” instead of intervening to help homeowners. This is an extremely touchy subject with Nevada voters given the state of their housing markets.
Perhaps the biggest attempt to influence Mormon voters can be seen through the recent comments of Nevada Democrat Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who is also a Mormon. Harry Reid has great pull in the state as he has been in office for 25 years. Many refer to his supporters in the state as his “political machine.” The power of Reid was recently seen in his 2010 senate race against a Tea Party Republican. An exit poll showed that 11 percent of the electorate decided for whom to vote in the final three days. Reid was able to capitalize on this opportunity as he received the majority of votes from this block of highly undecided voters. If Harry Reid still has this influence over undecided voters in the state, he will prove to be a very important surrogate for President Barack Obama in the upcoming election as Nevada is looking to be a tight race to the finish.
While they are both Mormon, Harry Reid and Mitt Romney are extremely different. These are differences that Harry Reid has been quick to point out in the last week. Reid believes that Romney’s comments about “47 percent of America” have further caused Romney to “sully his Mormon faith.” Reid believes that many Mormons are coming to realize that Romney is in fact not the “face of Mormonism.”
So, the question remains, who is the face of Mormonism? Is there a face of Mormonism? And, does it even matter if there is a face of Mormonism? While the face of Mormonism in Nevada may be up for grabs, I still believe that the sway of their vote is not. Nevada Mormons tend to share a Republican political philosophy and they are not being asked to choose between two Mormons. So, Romney should be smooth sailing with this voting block. Perhaps the best the Obama campaign can hope to do is reduce the number of Mormons who decide to vote. External factors, like Democratic attacks, will most likely not affect the 25 Mormon identifying percent of the Nevada electorate that is motivated and excited to campaign on behalf of their candidate.