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Mormon Democrats Battling Romney — And What Would Be Church History

They billed the gathering in a Charlotte, N.C., Holiday Inn conference room Tuesday as the first national meeting of Mormon Democrats.

Don't laugh. Crystal Young-Otterstrom says she figures there are 1 million of them out there, and she's determined to find them.

"It's like a missionary effort," Young-Otterstrom said in a room packed with the curious, the media and a cadre of members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints making the argument that the Democratic Party best represents their personal and religious values.

"This is a monumental moment for the LDS faith," said Scott Howell, a U.S. Senate candidate in Utah challenging GOP incumbent Sen. Orrin Hatch, also a Mormon.

He was talking, in part, about Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, the first Mormon on a major party ticket. But he was also referring to what felt like a Mormon Democrats coming-out party. (With non-adult beverages, the hosts joked.)

"Be thou not ashamed of our party," Howell said, a book of Scripture close at hand. "We are who we are. We are the ones who will change the face of this country."

There is a hill to climb. Utah hasn't elected a Democratic U.S. senator since 1970. And a Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life survey released early this year found that 74 percent of Mormons describe themselves as Republican or Republican-leaning; 17 percent say they are Democrats or Democratic-leaning.

That, by the way, is where Young-Otterstrom gets her 1 million Mormon Democrats figure. One million is equal to 17 percent of self-identified Mormons in the United States.

"In Utah, 7 percent of Mormons are Democrats," she said. "We've got to find that other 10 percent and get them to come out of hiding."

That message, she said, that there are others like you, is being shared on Facebook, on YouTube and through the Obama campaign efforts.

Howell and others made the argument that the Democratic Party and its policies — particularly as they affect the poor, the environment and education — better reflect Mormon values.

There were gentle jokes. Gregory Prince, a biotech executive and Mormon biographer, told those gathered that his daughter was recently the highest-ranking Mormon in the White House — "an unpaid intern."

There was a prayer, and a song, "Have I Done Any Good in the World Today," led by Young-Otterstrom.

And there was Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, a Mormon, who is majority leader of the U.S. Senate.

"A presidential election is not about religion; it's about values," he said, listing compassion, community and responsibility among those values.

Reid told a story of moving to Washington and attending a Mormon service at which his son was invited by a fellow student-to-be to join the high school's Young Republicans club.

Reid's son said he couldn't because he was a Democrat; the other young man replied: "I didn't know Mormons could be Democrats."

Said Reid: "I've been trying to change that perception" for 30 years.

After ticking off a list of prominent Mormons who have run for president, and served in state government in the past, Reid made a pitch for President Obama, for stewardship of the environment, and for Mormons to "be proud of who you are. Don't back down."

"And do everything you can in the next 10 weeks to help Barack Obama," he said.

Young-Otterstrom choked up when she told the crowd she was "proud to be an LDS Democrat."

Why, we asked later.

"It was really a feeling that was exciting and emotional," she said. "I was raised as a Republican."

When she was in college, Young-Otterstrom said, she realized that her views were better reflected by the Democratic Party.

"My positions didn't change," she said. But her party registration did.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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