Population growth in the West has created unprecedented opportunities for Mormon candidates to run for Congress in 2012.
Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are seeking new and open seats in Arizona, Nevada and Utah — and in many cases, they are running against each other.
It’s a new phenomenon for a religion that adamantly tries to stay out of the national political spotlight. The plethora of Mormon Congressional candidates comes as two Latter-day Saints are running for the GOP presidential nomination and one of them, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, is the frontrunner.
“You have two presidential candidates out there — maybe that’s inspiring,” said Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), a Mormon. “There’s just more Mormons out there. We’re growing in numbers.”
The dynamic is a product of significant population growth in states with high Mormon concentrations. Arizona, Nevada and Utah each picked up a House seat following reapportionment, and LDS candidates — almost all of whom are Republicans — are now running for at least one seat in each of those states.
Utah’s new Congressional map creates two good opportunities for the GOP hopefuls: a new seat and a challenge to Rep. Jim Matheson (D) if he seeks re-election. Six Mormon candidates, all Republicans, are seeking or considering a bid for either seat.
In Nevada, appointed Sen. Dean Heller (R), a Mormon, is seeking a full term. State Sen. John Lee (D), a Mormon and underdog in the 4th district Democratic primary, is seeking the state’s new House seat.
In Arizona, Republicans have three top-tier Mormon challengers running for the House — at least two of whom might seek the same seat once the new Congressional map is completed. Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and the other Republican running for retiring Sen. Jon Kyl’s (R-Ariz.) seat are members of the LDS church, too.
“In my race, I have another LDS opponent in the primary,” Flake said. “We’re encouraged to get involved in civics and in our community, so we’re usually disproportionately represented in some Legislatures and in the U.S. Senate or elsewhere.”
When former Rep. Matt Salmon (R) was elected in 1994, he was the first active member of the LDS church elected to Congress from Arizona. After a decade-long hiatus from Congress, Salmon is running again against at least two other Mormons.
“Not in any Congressional races have I ever run against somebody in my church,” Salmon said in a phone interview. “In a way, I think I kind of opened the door for that. I was the very first person elected from the state who was a practicing member of my religion.”