Utah has a long history of candidates using their LDS faith to win votes

LDS Temple 01

There’s a long history of candidates overtly, or with a wink and a smile, trying to use the LDS religion in their campaigns — Salt Lake City mayoral candidate Erin Mendenhall is certainly not the first, and likely won’t be the last.

The church, of course, does not endorse any candidates but does ask its members to be active in civic affairs and vote in all elections.

Here are just a few examples, going back and back…

— In the early 1980s a Salt Lake City council candidate, who was not a Mormon, sent out a flier detailing her personal history. In it she said she was “active in her Church,” and held some lay leadership positions.

In those days, long before emails and Twitter, if in print you capitalized “Church,” it meant the LDS Church. She was a Protestant, and, did indeed, hold some volunteer, lay positions in her local congregation.

— In 1990, a 3rd District GOP primary race was one of the most bitter in Utah history — the Democrat, an unknown fellow named Bill Orton, getting little attention until just before the final election when his GOP opponent allowed to be mailed out a flier that showed the GOP opponent with his large Mormon family surrounding him, and a photograph of Orton, who was LDS, but a single, older young man, standing alone, comparing the two “families.”

Big backlash by voters, who actually put Orton into office in one of the most Mormon-Republican U.S. House districts in the nation.

— 1992, in a three-way race for the then-2nd congressional district, the GOP nominee sent out a letter late in the campaign signed by two former LDS Relief Society female leaders, saying the Republican was the only candidate that was anti-abortion.

Independent candidate Merrill Cook went nuts, for he is a faithful Mormon who, indeed, was against abortions. The former Relief Society leaders were not identified as such in the letter — just their names under the endorsement. But certainly all the Mormon voters who saw it knew who they were.

— 1992, in the governor’s race, one of the GOP candidates sent out a flier, that when opened had a wide picture of the man, then a young LDS Church mission president in England, standing with a large number of his missionaries. He was at the end of the picture, and way across to the other side was a younger Neal Maxwell, who at the time was an LDS general authority who oversaw that mission. Later, Maxwell was called to be in the Quorum of the Twelve, and was in that position at the time of the governor’s race.

While not identified in the picture, any LDS voter would recognize a younger Maxwell in the campaign flier — giving the impression, perhaps, that he endorsed the candidate, which he did not.

— Any number of candidates, LDS or not, have over the years campaigned with a picture of them standing in front of the City/County Building’s tall spires — which to the untrained eye may look like the spires of the LDS Church’s main Temple on Temple Square.

Again, making it appear that the candidates were faithful Mormons, whether they were or not, if not endorsed by the LDS faith itself, which of course they were not.