Most Democrats in this election cycle are pretty confident that President Obama will win reelection to the White House. And even with that confidence, poll after poll continues to show that Obama and Romney will run very close in the State of Florida. In fact, Romney has led in a few of the more recent polls. Why is this the case?
As of right now, we really don’t have a demographic breakdown in these polls. But what is an important factor come Election Day will be turnout. And while Democrats usually rely on low turnout groups for their electoral success, Republicans are lucky in the fact that they target a smaller group of people that turn out in higher numbers. Among those voters are Mormons.
I went to the University of Utah, so I am well read and well informed about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (simply known as LDS or “The Church” in Utah). I eventually became a member. While not always an issue, many people in Utah want to know if you are a member of The Church. They simply ask “are you LDS?” The first time someone asked me that, I had no clue what they were talking about. Now, it is second nature.
With this connection, business deals can be brokered, marriages can be formed, friendships can be forged. Basically, your standing in the LDS Church can sometimes make or break who you are in Utah (excluding certain parts of Salt Lake City).
One thing that the LDS Church does, and does well, is organize. As we all know, they will knock on your door and get you to join the Church (often getting confused with Jehovah’s Witnesses, who also knock on doors). Of course, many people decline their invitation, but they are nice to you nonetheless. But if you give them even one hint that you might be interested in joining their Church, they will try and try until they get you to go on a Sunday. That is how they work. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with that, but they are persistent.
This is the same kind of energy that LDS members can bring to the Romney campaign. Mormons, at a very young age, are taught to speak publicly, get along with friends and neighbors and read their scripture (yes Mormons read The Bible, not just the Book of Mormon). With these public skills, the Romney campaign already has a strong grassroots organization.
Not only are Mormons hard workers, good speakers and strong organizers, but they are loyal as well. I didn’t really understand this loyalty until 2004 when I was living in Utah. In the 2004 Republican nomination for Governor of Utah, I thought that Marty Stephens (Speaker of the Utah House at that time) or Olene Walker (incumbent governor) would win the nomination. My good friend Nate was persistent that I was wrong. “Jon Huntsman is going to win this thing, easily,” he said. I asked him why that was. “He’s a Huntsman, that name alone in the LDS community will win him an election no matter who he ran against.” He was right, Huntsman won the Republican nomination and defeated Scott Matheson in the general, one of the best Democrats in the state.
To put this into perspective, our basketball arena at The U (sorry Miami, the the letter U isn’t in the word “Miami” at all) is named after Jon Hunstman Sr., who is still alive. The Huntsman Cancer Institute, paid for and named after Sr. The law library at BYU, named after Sr. Utah State University’s School of Business is now the “Jon Huntsman Sr. School of Business”. And Jon Huntsman Hall at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania is named after him as well (more than likely one of the reasons Jon Jr. attended Penn with only a GED).
So, we see how big the Huntsman name is in Utah. But when I ask Nate about the Republican primary in Utah between Romney and Huntsman, he didn’t even flinch in his answer. “Romney will kill Huntsman” he said. And with how big the Huntsman name is in the LDS Church, that show how much more significant Romney is.
Even with that being said you might say “well, Dave, what does this have to do with Florida?” One thing that many in Florida politics don’t know is that the LDS Church is very organized group, and politically motivated as well. So far, none of the political parties have reached out to them. It is always assumed that they are all Republicans. And while many of them truly are, that isn’t the case with all of them. But in a year that Romney leads the ticket, they all will be for him.
On top of being motivated to vote, organized, and having a popular candidate that can put a fire in their belly and “bring them back to the days when they left the MTC and started their mission” (yeah, Google it), they have a decent sized population, with possibly over 130,000 members in the State of Florida. Many of those Mormons are located in Central Florida. The largest concentration of Mormons starts in West Orange County, moves along the Bee-Line (still refuse to call it the “Beachline”) and along the Space Coast. There was a reason that Jon Huntsman put his Presidential campaign headquarters in Orlando and not Salt Lake City. It wasn’t because Disney was here…it was because Mormons were here.
Another part of Florida’s political history that people forget is that Senator Paula Hawkins from Orlando was LDS . She is still the only member of the LDS Church elected to the US Senate east of the Mississippi River (and possibly all of Congress) as well as one of only three LDS candidates to win a statewide election east of the Mississippi. The other two had the last name “Romney”.
The Church is big enough in Florida that the second largest LDS Temple east of the Mississippi River is in Orlando. In addition, there is another temple being built in Ft. Lauderdale. There are 26 “LDS-Steaks” in Orlando, similar to diocese in Catholicism, which is the most of any state east of the Mississippi. In fact, the concentration of Mormons in Central Florida is so large, that Orlando itself has three steaks, while Ft. Lauderdale only has one. In addition, Deseret Farms, located east of the Orlando International Airport and located in Osceola and Brevard Counties as well, is one of the most profitable farming operations in the nation…and the LDS Church owns it.
For years, these people have been trained to help convert people to the LDS Church. Heck, I am even considered a member of the LDS Church, though inactive (so I could have used “we” throughout the entire article, actually). And as we have seen, they are quite successful, becoming the fastest growing religion in the World. Now they will be able to use this might, wisdom and experience they have in their missionary work and implement it into the political world.
I’m sorry Democrats, but this year in Florida, Romney has the best grassroots organization…and it isn’t even close.