Mormons in the Next Congress, Part II

This is Part II of a series of guest posts by Bob King.

Part I

Part II – Senate: New Mormon Senator from New Mexico?

The open U.S. Senate race in New Mexico this year could produce another Latter-day Saint senator. Congressman Tom Udall (D-New Mexico) is the Democratic candidate in the race to replace retiring senator Pete Domenici (R). At this point most pundits consider Udall the frontrunner to win the seat – a Democratic pick-up in the Senate and another Mormon Senator.

The Udall Family Political Dynasty

Tom Udall is the son of Stewart Udall, former U.S. Congressman from Arizona and Secretary of Interior (1961-1969) under presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. He is also the nephew of Morris “Mo” Udall (D-Arizona) who served in Congress from 1961-1991. Both Stewart and Mo Udall were Church members.

The Udalls are a prominent LDS family descended from David Udall, an English convert, who emigrated to the United States in the early 1850s and eventually settled in Nephi, Utah. Several of his descendants were among the Mormons who settled eastern Arizona in the late nineteenth century, and several family members have been prominent in Arizona politics. (Political Graveyard – Udall Family of Arizona)

In the 2008 election, three Udall family members are candidates for the U.S. Senate. In addition to Tom Udall running in New Mexico, his cousin Congressman Mark Udall (D-Colorado) is also running for the senate. Mark is the son of Mo Udall and the nephew of Stewart Udall. To keep things in the family, the mother of Senator Gordon Smith (R-Oregon) is Jessica Udall, a first cousin of Mo and Stewart Udall. Smith is a second cousin of Tom and Mark Udall.

Tom Udall and his cousin Mark were both first sworn in as members of the U.S. House of Representatives on January 6, 1999. Eight years after their first election to Congress, both are in races for the Senate. Mark Udall, though he comes from a Mormon family, does not identify himself as a member of the Church. His chances of winning a Senate seat in Colorado appear to be almost as good his cousin Tom’s chances in New Mexico. Congressional Quarterly, on its seven-point election rating scale, ranks the Colorado Senate race as “leans Democratic” for Mark Udall (CQ Politics – Senate Ratings.) Cook Political Report rates the Colorado race a “toss-up” (Cook Political Report – Senate Race Ratings). With Colorado expected to be one of the battleground states in the presidential election, this race is one that will have considerable national attention.

Tom Udall’s Background and his Senate Election Prospects

Although Tom Udall’s father represented Arizona in Congress and Tom was born in Tucson and attended Prescott College in the state, his mother’s family had strong ties to New Mexico dating back to the territorial era. Tom received his law degree from the University of New Mexico, and he has had a long political career in the state. He first ran for congress in 1982 but lost the Democratic primary to Bill Richardson – New Mexico’s current Governor, Secretary of Energy in the Clinton Administration, and an unsuccessful Democratic presidential candidate this year. Udall made a second run for Congress in 1988 but lost in the general election. From 1991-1999, he was elected to two terms as Attorney General of New Mexico. On his third try for congress in 1998, he defeated his Republican opponent 53% to 43%, and he has been reelected in the following four elections. (Tom Udall biography.)

New Mexico’s 3rd Congressional District, which Udall represents, covers the northern part of the state and includes the state capital Santa Fe, as well as other major cities of Los Alamos, Gallup, and Farmington. The early Mormon agricultural settlements in the state are in this district. The state of New Mexico, however, has a small LDS population – only 3.2%.

Udall has a liberal Democratic record in the House of Representatives. The National Journal ideological ranking gives him an 80% liberal rating in 2007. His rating on key votes for the American Civil Liberties Union was 100% in 2007, and his rating on issues of interest to the AFL-CIO was 96%. Consistent with the strong record of his father and uncle on environmental issues, he received a 100% vote rating from the League of Conservation Voters. (See “Interest Group Ratings” for Congressman Tom Udall at Project Vote Smart.)

The New Mexico senate race pits Tom Udall against Congressman Stephen Pierce, who has represented the state’s 2nd Congressional District. Pierce had a tough primary race against the third member of the state’s congressional delegation, and he won the primary with only 51% to 49% of the vote, which is likely to help Udall in the general election in November. (U.S. Senate Election in New Mexico 2008, Wikipedia.)

This Senate race has been identified as a key contested race, but it appears that Udall has the edge. Although the senate seat that is being vacated is held by a Republican (Domenici) and two of the state’s three House seats are held by Republicans, New Mexico has a Democratic Governor (Bill Richardson) and its other Senator is a Democrat. Furthermore, it has been trending more Democratic in recent elections. The state is expected to be a battleground state in the presidential election, which makes the Senate race more interesting.

The latest financial reports of the candidates indicate a healthy advantage for Udall. In the latest reports, he has raised $3.2 million for the Senate campaign and still has $2.9 million cash on hand. Pierce, who spent $1.8 million for his hard-fought primary win, has raised $1.9 million but had only $248,000 cash on hand. (Center for Responsive Politics – Open Secrets.)

Congressional Quarterly, on its seven-point election rating scale ranks the New Mexico Senate race as “leans Democratic.” (CQ Politics – Senate Ratings.) Cook Political Report also rates the race “lean Democratic” (Cook Political Report – Senate Race Ratings).

Senator John Ensign (R-Nevada), the Chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) and the designated senator to assist Republican Senate candidates, has acknowledged that the party is facing a formidable challenge against Udall. According to political analysts, New Mexico and Virginia are the two states most likely to change from Republican to Democratic control in November. When asked point blank if the NRSC was considering walking away from these two states in order to focus limited resources on other more promising races, Ensign did not confirm or deny anything but said, “You don’t waste money on races that don’t need it or you can’t win.” (Wall Street Journal, June 12, 2008)

Four, Five or Six LDS Senators in 2009?

Two Mormons are top tier candidates in the most hotly contested of the 35 Senate races taking place this year – Gordon Smith (R) in Oregon and Tom Udall (D) in New Mexico. When NRSC chair Senator John Ensign was asked to identify the ten most competitive senate races, he included both Oregon and New Mexico. (Wall Street Journal, June 12, 2008) If both candidates win their races, six Latter-day Saints will be serving in the Senate – the highest number of Church members ever to serve in that body.


  1. Enjoying this series, thanks!

  2. Fascinating. I wasn’t aware of the Udalls.

  3. However, as I’m rapidly discovering is the case in this church, 99% of active Mormons will immediately and completely discount Tom Udall because he is a (gasp!) Democrat.

  4. John Mansfield says:

    With the analysis of Gordon Smith’s race, Mr. King identified some areas where Senator Smith’s religion has come up. Is it a factor at all for Tom Udall, particularly since Mr. Udall does not participate with the Mormon church?

  5. Is Tom Udall active LDS? Like John Mansfield I am not sure he is.

  6. Mo and Stew took a hike from the Church back in the 1950s. I remember Mo’s response to a statement by the mayor of Detroit, Coleman Young, back in 1976, attacking the church for its alleged policies toward blacks. Mo responded, saying that “he had split with the Mormon Church over its policies toward blacks 30 years earlier.” The younger generation might have come back, but who knows?

  7. Re: 6- I don’t think there was anything “alleged” about the Church’s polices toward blacks. It was pretty blatant and overt, actually.

  8. bbell, my wife is from the Santa Fe New Mexico Stake. Three or four years ago, a member of Mr. Udall’s staff, a member from my wife’s home ward who my wife had babysat a couple decades earlier, invited us to Mr. Udall’s office and gave us a tour of the Capitol building. We asked this staff member about it, and she said that Tom Udall is an inactive member, and that his cousin Mark Udall is not LDS.

    I don’t raise this as some kind of dirty rumor, like those who pop up claiming to know some secret about Harry Reid. Tom Udall’s lack of dealings with his nominal church is an open fact, and in no way is the least bit disqualifying to him as a candidate. There are plenty of inactive Mormons in this country, and they qualify for a place in politics as much as anyone.

  9. The sad thing is that we are doing it all over to our gay family members.

  10. John,

    When you look at the original post you would get the idea that Tom Udall is a Mormon politician like Reid or Hatch. Reid or Hatch though have raised their kids in the church and it would not be out of the question to run into either one of them at a local ward house in the DC area.

    The facts are that he is inactive and except for being on the rolls has a very limited relationship with the LDS church. He is an “ethnic mormon” and the next generation of his family will be off the rolls.

    Obviously it does not disqualify him for public office.

  11. Bbell, I can’t read in any of the comments that anyone has claimed the current “Mormon status” of any of these Udall descendants is a factor in whether or not they can run for public office.

    And not to keep quibbling over the Udalls (although it’s so fun to quibble over people as interesting as the Udalls), but I would personally state that the common ancestor of all these politicians was David King Udall of St. Johns, Arizona, and not his father. (Of course his father was their common ancestor, too, but David King places them all one generation closer together.)

    If you are so inclined, you can read a biography of the common ancestor here.

  12. Actually, Tony, I was referring to the statement made by Coleman Young (which I should have quoted), that contained the same old canard that we heard regularly then, and that still has traction today: that the church did not allow blacks to become members.

    That was a false allegation then, as it is now.

    Perhaps we shouldn’t pay any attention to who in Congress is a Mormon, and then we won’t have to quibble about who’s active and who isn’t, etc. Maybe we could follow Hellmut’s hint, and start making a list of openly gay Mormons in congress.

  13. The first Mormon my mother met was an African American soldier in 1965.

  14. Maybe we could follow Hellmut’s hint, and start making a list of openly gay Mormons in congress.

    ..perhaps for a very short Part III of this series…

  15. I have lived in New Mexico, and now live in Colorado. I have not seen anything in either state that addresses their religion in any of their previous runs for office.

    I agree that Tom has a better shot of the two. He has the advantage of running against a weak opponent. I was in Pierce’s district, which is the most Republican part of New Mexico, and Pierce wasn’t terribly well thought of. If anything, I would have to guess that Udall has a better reputation than his Republican opponent.

  16. I am a member of the Santa Fe Ward (The only ward in the City), Tom Udall is on our membership roles but is inactive. He is married to Jill Z. Cooper who is not a member of the LDS Church.

    I to am a dreaded Mormon Democrat. Tom was a good State Attorney General and is a very dependable trustworthy Congressman. He will make a great Senator. His religion active or inactive does not play a role here in New Mexico, nor should it.

  17. I remember once meeting a member of the Udall family and asked him about the political heritage in his family. I remember him saying something about his ancestor (don’t remember which generation back) deciding to start a political dynasty and dividing up the family between Democrats and Republicans — like telling children, “you’re the Democrats” and others, “you’re the Republicans.” He felt like his family could make more of a difference if they had both bases covered. I remember thinking it was savvy, but kind of wierd, like they weren’t allowed to make their own principled decisions about which party to join. Did you come across anything about that story in the family history?

  18. Ogan, I’m a little squirmy about information you glean from membership directories being broadcast here. We can have the conversation about his activity level (if we really have to–does it matter?) based on public statements. Thanks.

  19. There seems to be a double standard when it comes to deciding whether a public figure is a member of the Church or not.

    On the one hand, when we are counting Church membership for statistical purposes, we include any baptized member of the Church, who has not requested that his or her name be removed or whose name has not been removed for disciplinary reasons. The standard is not high — no requirement about Sacrament Meeting attendance, no requirement for a current temple recommend, no requirement for an address.

    On the other hand when we are looking at political figures, we want to say that this or that political leader does not have the same political views as I (a Church member) do, and therefore, he or she can’t be a member of the Church. And that — not Sacrament Meeting attendance or holding a temple recommend — is the basis for most people’s judgment about whether to consider a political leader a Church member.

    By the Church’s definition and by his own definition, Congressman Mo Udall (D-Arizona 1961-1991) was LDS. He frequently referred to himself as “a one-eyed Mormon Democrat from conservative Arizona, and you can’t have a higher handicap that that.” He expressed opposition to for the Church policy toward Africans before it was changed in 1978, but he still considered himself a Mormon. The New York Times obituary of Mo Udall does an excellent job of looking at the Mormon facets of Udall’s life. (“Morris K. Udall, Fiercely Liberal Congressman, Dies at 76,” New York Times, December 14, 1998.)

  20. In your first article you mentioned a LDS member of Congress who lost his party’s primary. Who is that?

  21. Chris Cannon (R-Utah) 3rd Congressional District. That will be discussed in Part III — Stay tuned!

  22. CAW,

    Remember that the political parties did not used to be so ideologically pure.

    Both the Republicans and Democrats had conservative and liberal wings.

    And of course how can we forget the legendary division of the wards between Democrat and Republican at the time of statehood.

  23. RE: John Mansfield – Comment #4 above

    “With the analysis of Gordon Smith’s race, Mr. King identified some areas where Senator Smith’s religion has come up. Is it a factor at all for Tom Udall, particularly since Mr. Udall does not participate with the Mormon church?”

    In my discussion of Gordon Smith’s senate reelection campaign I mentioned the incident when Senator Smith talked about his Mormon background. That was a rare instance of when the Church was raised in a campaign outside Utah or southeastern Idaho. In following Tom Udall’s campaign, I haven’t encountered any occasions when his Mormon background has come up. I think it has nothing to do with his level of church activity and more to do with the fact that church membership isn’t a political issue.

  24. After 30 years of voting in New Mexico I have never heard of or witnessed anyones religion being an issue. How many generations your family has lived in the State will occasionaly come up.

  25. Polling Update

    Several recent polls have shown Republican Senator Gordon Smith’s race in Oregon getting closer, while Tom Udall in New Mexico and his non-Mormon cousin Mark Udall in Colorado are opening up a wider gap over their opponents. Here are results as of September 23 from [Congressional Quarterly is a respected non-partisan media organization that follows Congress.]

    Senator Gordon Smith – Oregon — Smith is in a statistical dead heat with his Democratic challenger Jeff Merkley, the Speaker of the state House, leading him 46 percent to 45 percent with 2 percent choosing “other” and 7 percent undecided in a poll completed September 15.

    Congressman Tom Udall – New Mexico Senate Race — Udall is leading his Republican opponent Congressman Steven Pearce by 57 percent to 37 percent with 6 percent undecided in a poll completed September 19.

    Congressman Mark Udall – Colorado Senate Race Mark Udall of the Arizona Mormon political dynasty, who himself is not a Church member, leads his Republican opponent former Congressman Bob Schaffer by 48 percent to 40 percent with 1 percent “other” and 11 percent undecided in a poll completed September 21.