Mendenhall mailer makes religion a last-minute issue in race for SLC mayor. Half of voters say they’re aware of the candidate’s religion

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Salt Lake City mayoral candidate Erin Mendenhall’s campaign sent out a mailer this week that strongly hints she is a Mormon, when in fact she is not.

The mailer, signed by several faithful LDS Church members, says they have “worshipped with her,” “visit taught” her and “served with her” — all Mormon societal buzz phrases that could well lead readers to believe Mendenhall is LDS.

It clearly is an attempt to blunt some of the headway her opponent Luz Escamilla is making with faithful Mormon voters — Escamilla is LDS.

20191031 Mendenhall Mailer

And Mendenhall’s political concerns are real — a new UtahPolicy.com poll conducted by Y2 Analytics shows that 50 percent of city voters are aware of the religions issue that has raised its head in the mayor’s race, while only 32 percent have heard nothing about the two candidates’ religious beliefs.

20191031 QCANDIDATERELIGION Topline

While some may complain that a candidate’s religion shouldn’t be part of any campaign — both Escamilla and Mendenhall have done so — it is also true that in Utah politics being Mormon or not is an advantage, or a disadvantage, depending on the electorate.

Former Mayor Rocky Anderson took to the internet several weeks ago saying the city’s mayor should not be a good Mormon, for that could cloud the mayor’s dealings with LDS Church officials.

The city is the international headquarters for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and faithful Mormons believe the church president is picked by God and is a modern-day living prophet.

Anderson’s comments were criticized, but now religion is clearly part of the election, which ends in Tuesday’s vote.

The new poll shows that 51 percent of Mendenhall likely voters know about the pair’s religion, while 56 percent of Escamilla’s voters say they are aware of the issue.

20191031 QBALLOT1 Candidate Religion Response

As reported earlier, Mendenhall holds a 13-point lead in a straight-up head to head poll, while she holds a 10-point lead over Escamilla when Y2 pushed respondents to pick who they may vote for.

But clearly Mendenhall’s campaign didn’t want the religion issue left unaddressed — as the letter clearly attempts to make some city voters feel better about Mendenhall’s non-Mormon status.

Luz Escamilla’s campaign declined to comment on the last-minute insertion of religion by Mendenhall in the race. 

“We are focused on addressing the more pressing issues in this race that make a real difference in the lives of Salt Lake City residents and the future of our great city,” said campaign manager Rudy Miera in a statement.

Mendenhall’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment by publication time.

A candidate’s religion has been brought up in a number of previous Utah elections — and almost always raises controversies the candidates didn’t intend. (See accompanying story.)

Politically speaking, Utah is clearly an LDS-dominated state, because most of its leaders are faithful church members.

All of the state elected leaders are Mormon, as is around 80 percent of the 104-member Legislature. All of the state’s congressional delegation are LDS.

But Salt Lake City is no longer majority LDS.

The new poll finds that just 29 percent of city voters identify as “LDS or Mormon,” with nearly 45 percent saying they are atheist or agnostic or otherwise non-religious. The rest belong to some other religion — with none getting more than a 7 percent share of the voting populace, the poll finds.