On Tuesday in Uptown Charlotte, the LDS Democrats caucus held its first national meeting. If I hadn’t known I was walking into a crowd of Mormons, a few things might have given it away. One was that I met a distant cousin of mine — I was born and raised Mormon, and Mormondom can be a small world. Another was that everyone was so tellingly nice.
Eager to commiserate with like-minded Latter-day Saints, some Mormons drove for hours or altered flight layovers to mingle with LDS delegates to the Democratic National Convention. They traded stories about coming out as President Obama voters and bumper stickers with messages such as “Choose the Left,” a play on a ubiquitous Mormon aphorism, “Choose the Right.” When Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) visited, they sang an impromptu hymn.
Asked about Mitt Romney, attendees professed excitement that a Mormon is running for president. “It’s huge that he’s brought more attention to our faith,” said Lisa Johnson, a Democratic delegate from the Salt Lake City suburbs. But they also expressed admiration for the man they will vote against. “He is obviously a very good person,” said Robert Taber, the national director of Mormons for Obama, and my cousin. Folks in Utah still admire how Romney saved the 2002 Salt Lake Olympics, Craig Janis, the caucus’s Utah outreach director, pointed out.
“We’re pro-Obama, not anti-Romney,” Taber said, explaining that he “aggressively” monitors the Mormons for Obama Facebook page for insults.
In fact, Janis said, many members of the LDS Democrats would have considered voting for the Mitt Romney of 1994 or 2004, when he was selling himself as a business-like moderate to Massachusetts voters. Most of them, he said, were Republicans until the party’s recent rightward lurch left them stranded in what had been the center-right of the political spectrum. Some in Utah felt “almost chased out” of that state’s Republican Party, Johnson said.
Maybe it’s that Mormon Democrats are used to conversing with those hostile to their politics, but, to my ears, there was no overheated talk of tax returns or foreign bank accounts, and there was more willingness to admit that Romney’s talents and success, with which these Democrats are unusually familiar, deserve praise. Many just politely disagreed with the Romney of 2012 on what they could gather was his policy (nailing it down can be a challenge), lamented Romney’s politically convenient embrace of an increasingly strident right wing, or both.
You don’t have to be a Latter-day Saint or a Democrat to understand that.