“I don’t understand how a member of the Mormon Church can support someone who is amoral and has shown his amorality from the moment he came to our view,” former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat and member of the church, he said in an interview.
Trump’s campaign hopes more Mormons have followed the path of Lee and right-wing radio host Glenn Beck, former critics who have come to support Trump.
In 2016, Democrats didn’t seem to convert many of the Mormons who voted against Trump. Some stayed home, while many others cast a protest vote for the Church̵
Without McMullin in the race, and with a turnout expected to exceed 2016, both sides see a rare group of potentially persuadable voters at a truly impossible time.
“Not having the third party ticket with Evan McMullin will help give us the opportunity to attract some of those voters to Trump’s camp,” said McDaniel, who is Romney’s granddaughter.
McMullin, who still opposes Trump, said he thinks some of his supporters will vote for the president, but that “most of the people who voted for third parties in 2016 will support Biden in this election.” He argued that some Republicans voted for Trump “out of habit,” but have soured him ever since.
A Biden official admitted that Trump is likely to improve his 2016 performance among Mormons, but that the Democrat’s goal is to significantly limit these gains. Some longtime Democratic LDS organizers have said Biden has already enhanced Hillary Clinton’s efforts, which they said is too focused on Utah.
“Biden’s campaign seems far more aware of the Latter-day Saint diaspora in the western mountains and the South Atlantic,” said Rob Taber, national co-chair of Latter-day Saints Democrats of America.
“It won’t be shocking that Trump wins the Mormon vote, but if it’s 10-15 points out of the ordinary in Nevada and Arizona, that’s a big deal,” said Quin Monson, a partner at Utah-based survey firm Y2 Analytics and a political science professor at Church-funded Brigham Young University. “It’s the equivalent of Republicans suddenly getting a quarter of the African American vote, and I think it’s in the realm of possibility. They haven’t fully gotten to Donald Trump.”
So far, the Trump campaign appears to be spending more time than their candidates courting Mormon voters. While Pence visited Arizona, there are no plans for Biden or his running mate Kamala Harris to attend a Mormon-oriented event. Biden’s advisers believe his Catholicism might also appeal to Church voters, but the campaign isn’t airing any announcements in Arizona focusing on his religion.
Trump is about 5 points behind Biden in Arizona, according to polling averages, and Church voters could be decisive if the race tightens. In 2018, Kyrsten Sinema won massive Maricopa County – which includes the historically Mormon suburb of Mesa – by becoming the first Democrat to win an Arizona Senate seat since the 1980s.
Trump’s campaign advisers said they don’t see Maricopa County as a must-win; instead, they are trying to increase the president’s margins in rural Arizona. The LDS enclaves in the White Mountains will be the key to this effort.
Trump’s public embrace by some Church members has created cracks in a community that was once largely monolithic in its politics. Former Arizona State Senator Bob Worsley, Republican and founder of SkyMall, recently began organizing publicly for Biden after hearing that the Trump-aligned LDS group that hosted Pence last month implied that the Church leadership supported President.
“I’ve never voted for a Democrat in my life, but we think this man is an abomination,” Worsley said. He thinks more Mormons will vote for Biden than in 2016 because “some have found Hillary’s husband Bill such a lack of an example of a good moral person.”
The leadership of the Church, which members watch closely for political signals, has strived to remain neutral in the race even as it continues to reject Trump on immigration. In 2018, the church protested the administration’s policies that led to the separation of families at the border.
“We are deeply troubled by the aggressive and callous treatment of these families,” he said at the time.
Biden’s campaign hopes that Trump’s immigration record will push Church voters, including the many Hispanics who have joined the Church in recent years, to Democrats. The campaign is building a Church volunteer program, using church members who support Biden to reach out to Mormon friends and neighbors.
“At the end of the day, President Trump reflects more political values than most Mormons than Joe Biden,” said Mike Noble, partner and head of research for the Phoenix-based polling firm OH Predictive Insights. But Trump would be wrong to think he has a blockade on Church voters, he added.
“If they can handle his erratic behavior,” Noble said, “it will probably be the deciding factor for many Mormons.”