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Rolly: Hatch and the Mormon card
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Well, Sen. Orrin Hatch has done it again.

He played the Mormon card during a town hall meeting in Davis County, where he was speaking to a mostly Mormon group, as a way to demonstrate the moral superiority of Republicans over Democrats. And, just like past attempts to impress an LDS crowd, his comments have gone viral.

As reported by Politico, Hatch said that President Barack Obama's campaign would attack Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney's Mormon religion to harm him politically.

"You watch, they're going to throw the Mormon church at him like you can't believe," Hatch said. That generated outrage among national and Utah Democrats, who called Hatch's comment "preposterous" and said he was "making it up."

Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a congresswoman from Florida, noted that Obama has been the one unfairly attacked by the right wing, which questioned his religion and his citizenship. The Obama campaign has said repeatedly that a candidate's religion is off the table.

You might recall Hatch's remarks to a conservative-friendly audience in St. George in the 1980s. He called the Democratic Party the party of "abortionists and homosexuals." When the quote hit the national news wires, Hatch at first tried to say he was misquoted.

He had a similar faux pas in 2010, again in St. George, when he said that LDS gays and lesbians don't pay tithing, that "politics is their religion."

Dave Hansen, Hatch's campaign manager, told me the concern about Mormon bashing from the left is legitimate because of recent comments from liberal commentators. He noted MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell's recent segment on the Mormon faith's history regarding race and Brigham Young's admonition that biracial marriage was a sin.

But Democrats have pointed out that religious-right Republicans have been the most vocal critics of Romney's religion, including 2008 GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee.

Both Republicans and Democrats in Utah have tried to use LDS doctrine and statements from church leaders to their political advantage. Political historians point to then LDS Apostle Ezra Taft Benson's statement in an interview that it would be difficult to be a faithful Mormon and a liberal Democrat as a sea change in Utah politics.

Before Benson's statement, polls identified Utahns as one-third Republican, one-third Democrat and one-third independent. Now, Utahns are 56 percent Republican and 19 percent Democrat, and surveys consistently find that Mormons have the highest percentage of self-identified Republicans of any religion.

In 1998, Democrats rejoiced over statements by LDS General Authority Marlin K. Jensen that faithful Mormons can be Republican or Democrat and that the church regrets being labeled a one-party church. The Democratic Party has had recent conversations with Jensen, who is being released from his position as church historian, about running for Congress. He also is on Democratic gubernatorial candidate Peter Cooke's short list for a running mate.

State Democratic Party Chairman Jim Dabakis has reached out to Mormons, and an LDS Democratic caucus was recently formed. There also have been years when the party vigorously recruited Mormons to run for office. In 2000, when Democrat Scott Howell ran against Hatch, Howell made his LDS religion an issue in speeches and debates. But it backfired when Hatch's campaign said it was inappropriate to bring religion into the race.

Howell is once again seeking the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate in a year when religion hovers over the political landscape across the nation. —

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