Latter-day Saints for Biden launches list of endorsers

(Andrew Harnik | AP file photo) Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden talks about wearing a face mask as he speaks at Gettysburg National Military Park in Gettysburg, Pa., on Oct. 6, 2020. An online list is being launched to show Latter-day Saints who are endorsing Biden.

Latter-day Saints who break politically from the majority in their heavily Republican church membership to vote for Joe Biden no longer need feel alone. An online list was launched Thursday to reveal like-minded souls.

“We do want to present ourselves as a community of refuge and to let people know they are not alone,” Rob Taber, national director of Latter-day Saints for Biden-Harris, said about the new online list of Latter-day Saints who choose to show they are endorsing Biden.

It included about 400 people initially, with invitations for others to join.

“It’s for people who feel somewhat stranded in their ward or branch [congregations] where a lot of their fellow Latter-day Saints are supporting President Trump,” Taber said. “They’re so glad to find us, to find people who are politically like-minded, who also reflect their LDS values.”

Taber said those signing come from around the nation — not just Utah or neighboring states with high numbers of Latter-day Saints — and include some Republicans and independents beyond Democrats.

As an example of a long-time Republican on the list, Taber pointed to Frank W. Fox, a professor emeritus of American History at Brigham Young University and co-founder of the university’s American Heritage program.

Someone on the list who belongs to neither major party is Jim Bennett, co-founder of the United Utah Party, which bills itself as a middle ground between Democrats and Republicans. He is the son of former GOP Utah Sen. Bob Bennett and the grandson of former Sen. Wallace F. Bennett.

Some other names of note on the list as it launched include:

Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian specializing in early America and the history of women.

Shannon Hale, a New York Times bestselling author of more than 30 children’s and young adult novels, including the Newbery Honor recipient “Princess Academy.”

Neylan McBaine, founding CEO of Better Days 2020, a nonprofit involved the honoring anniversaries of women’s suffrage and women’s history.

Some Democratic politicians are sprinkled on it, including state Rep. Marie Poulson, D-Cottonwood Heights, and Dan McClellan, who is running for state Senate District 10.

While not part of the initial online list, Taber notes that some other prominent church members who have endorsed Biden include former Arizona GOP Sen. Jeff Flake and Evan McMullin, who ran an independent campaign for president four years ago, and drew 21.5% of the Utah vote.

Taber said he hopes the list will encourage Latter-day Saints to look to break a Republican tradition among many in their church.

“Unlike 2016, this list and recent polling show that Latter-day Saints repulsed by Trump aren’t flocking to a third-party candidate, but are drawn to the Democratic candidate,” Taber said. “We find Joe Biden to be a unifying figure, someone who will restore civility to national life, prepared to tackle COVID-19, and provide needed support to working families.”

He adds that even modest gains from LDS ranks for Biden could make a big difference in many battleground states.

“If a state has 200,000 Latter-day Saints, as Florida and Arizona do, then a 15-point shift toward Biden in our votes means a shift in the overall margin by 60,000 votes, or over half of what Florida was decided by in 2016,” he said. “If a state has 100,000 Latter-day Saints, as North Carolina and Georgia do, then that’s a shift of 30,000 votes, which is more than what Michigan or Wisconsin were decided by in 2016.”

Does he see Utah flipping? "Probably not,” Taber said. But a Y2 Analytics poll this week shows Trump is ahead by 10 points, less than what may be expected in heavily Republican Utah. The state has voted for every GOP nominee after Barry Goldwater in 1964, usually by overwhelming margins.

Taber says, “We are metaphorically more of a purple church population than we have been.”

The online list comes two days after the ruling First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued a letter that reiterates that the church, as an organization, is neutral on partisan matters and that principles compatible with its teachings are found in multiple political parties. It again suggests members can join any of many parties and be in good standing.

Still, a poll released Monday by Y2 Analytics shows a lopsided margin of “very active” Latter-day Saints who are Republicans in Utah. It found that 73% of them reported being Republicans or independents who leaned Republican. Only 12% were Democrats or independents who lean Democratic. Another 13% said they were true independents.

Some rank-and-file church members have argued through the years in Utah that to be a good Mormon, members had to be Republican because that party had mirrored church stands on such things as abortion and gay rights.

Taber says he hopes church members distance themselves from such arguments. “We’re not arguing that to be a good Latter-day Saint you have to vote for Biden. We’re trying to move away from that kind of pulpit-pounding approach to politics.”