DRAPER, Utah — When Donald Trump entered the presidential race, Laurie Towers liked how he was able to channel many Americans’ anger and frustration. But as the primary season ramped up, Towers, who is Mormon, increasingly found herself turned off by Trump.
“We have values and standards that he doesn’t hold dear,” Towers said of herself and other members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
As Trump continues to gain support from nearly every demographic that makes up the Republican voting base, primary results show that he is lagging behind with a small group: Mormon voters.
Trump suffered some of his biggest losses to date in counties with large Mormon populations during the Idaho primary. In Idaho’s heavily Mormon Madison County, Trump captured less than 8 percent of the vote, and he pulled in less than 20 percent in other southern Idaho counties that have large LDS populations.
Tuesday’s caucuses here in Utah will tell whether Trump’s brash demeanor, controversial statements and occasional cursing will play well among a large group of Mormon voters who pride themselves on decorum. About 62 percent of Utah’s population is Mormon.
Meanwhile, the campaign of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), who has made religious liberty a cornerstone of his campaign, is expecting to do well here. He campaigned in the state Saturday with host Glenn Beck and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), who are both Mormon. Ohio Gov. John Kasich held a rally Friday in St. George, a heavily Mormon city in the state’s southwest corner. Kasich toured an LDS facility in December and met with church leaders.
“It’s a new phenomenon. We’ve never seen this before, where Republicans go against what the church says,” Matt Miles, a professor of political science at Brigham Young University in Idaho, said of Trump. “This is our first real test of it.”
Trump’s proposal to bar Muslims from entering the United States has particularly troubled many Mormons, whose founders fled west to practice their faith and who value religious liberty.
“The thing that really does concern LDS people is the religious tolerance thing. The outright Muslim ban strikes home in a state that has a population that’s been persecuted over the years,” said Chuck Warren, a Republican strategist here. “That’s real.”
For others, it’s a moral issue.
“I’ve got to have a president that isn’t a playboy, and I’ve got to have a president who isn’t liable to say things I can’t have repeated in my own home because it’s too embarrassing,” said Stan Lockhart, a Mormon who chaired the now-defunct campaign of Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) in Utah.
At a rally in Salt Lake City on Friday, Trump lavished praise on Mormons.
“They’re amazing people, and it’s an honor to be with you tonight, those of you that are Mormons,” Trump said, noting he has employed Mormons who “constantly give” to the church. “An honor. I love you.”
But Trump also questioned the faith of former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who is Mormon: “He’s a choke artist, I can’t believe. Are you sure he’s a Mormon? Are we sure?”
Cruz blasted Trump’s comments Saturday, telling reporters here it is “disgraceful to call into question the faith of another.”
In Provo, where Brigham Young University is located, Beck spoke at a rally organized by a super PAC that supports Cruz. Beck made a direct appeal to Mormons, who believe in a prophecy that the Constitution will one day hang by a thread.
“That book spells out in great detail what things look like before the Lord comes back,” Beck said of Mormon text. As he spoke, a woman shouted out, “I believe!” Someone in the crowd held a sign reading, “Mormons for Cruz.”
Beck, who converted to Mormonism in 2000, said the words in the Constitution are sacred, and it comes with a sacred responsibility.
“Prepare for a time of miracles,” Beck said. “And get out Tuesday and be a part of it.”
Cruz, who seeks to amass delegates to try to catch up to Trump, needs not only to win Utah, but to win it big. Any candidate who gets more than 50 percent of the vote collects all of Utah’s 40 delegates. Romney said he will caucus for Cruz as a way to stop Trump and urged those in Utah to do the same. Cruz repeatedly told audiences that a vote for Kasich, who could cut into Cruz’s delegate count, is a vote for Trump.
Both Cruz and Trump are immigration hard-liners, a stance that may turn off some Mormons who did mission trips overseas.
“Utahans are not scared of free trade,” Warren said. The state also led the nation in job growth last year, and its unemployment rate is at 3.4 percent.
“They’re not scared of immigration. They’re not scared of cultural differences because everybody has an experience living overseas, working with the people.”
But not all Mormons are writing off Trump.
Dennis Garrett, 67, a practicing Mormon and a former bishop, said during a Trump rally in Salt Lake City on Friday evening that he was behind Trump from the moment he announced his candidacy. Garrett said that growing up in Missouri, his parents “spoke their plain opinion about things,” which he thinks Trump does, as well, adding that Trump’s tough talk on foreign policy is also appealing.
“I know a lot of Mormons that are for Trump,” he said.
Jose A. DelReal in Salt Lake City contributed to this report.