Mormons in Congress–Post-Election Summary

In September and October BCC published a five-part series of guest blogs by Bob King looking at the prospects of the 16 Latter-day Saints serving in Congress in the November 4th Election. Now that election day has come and gone, Bob gives us a quick summary of how the Congressional Mormons fared in the polls.

Mormons in Congress: How Did LDS Candidates Fare in the 2008 Election?

The 2008 election has been called “historic” – the election of the first African-American president; the highest percentage of the vote for a Democratic president since 1964; the smallest number of Republicans in the House of Representatives since 1993.

For the 16 Mormons serving in Congress at the beginning of the 110th Congress (2007-2008), the election produced relatively modest changes. But in the 111th Congress that convenes on January 6, 2009, Latter-day Saints in the House and Senate will number only 14. The changes are these:

  • One LDS House member won his race for the Senate (Tom Udall – D-3rd Congressional District of New Mexico), and his house seat was not taken by a Church member.
  • One LDS Senator was defeated in his bid for a 3rd term (Gordon Smith – R-Oregon).
  • One LDS House member retired after being tainted in the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal (John Doolittle – R-4th Congressional District of California). His successor is not a Church member.
  • One Utah Congressional seat was won by a Church member (Jason Chaffetz – R-3rd Congressional District of Utah) after he defeated the incumbent LDS Congressman (Christopher Cannon – R) in the primary election earlier this year.
  • Of the remaining 12 Church members serving in Congress, four LDS Senators were not up for reelection this year and eight LDS Congressmen were reelected.
  • Mormons in the Senate. Before the election, five of the one hundred members of the United States Senate – five percent – were Latter-day Saints. In the new Congress, which convenes on January 6, 2009, the Senate will still have five Mormons, but the faces will be different. Senator Gordon Smith (R-Oregon) lost his bid for a third six-year term, but Senator-elect Tom Udall (D-New Mexico) will be sworn in as the first LDS senator from New Mexico.

    Because Senators serve six-year terms, the other four Church members now in the Senate will continue to serve the remainder of their terms – Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Robert F. Bennett (R-Utah); Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), and Harry Reid (D-Nevada), who has served as Majority Leader of the Senate since January 2007, is expected to be reelected to this position.

    Senator Gordon Smith – Difficult Reelection Bid in Oregon. The Senate race in Oregon was one of the most hotly contested senate races in the entire country. The race was not called for two days after the end of voting because the tally was so close. But on Thursday afternoon with the votes of most of Oregon’s precincts tallied, Smith was at 46% to his opponent’s 49%, down some 42 thousand votes out of over 1.5 million cast. Smith phoned his Democratic opponent, Oregon House Speaker, Jeff Merkley, to concede the election.

    The race was one of the more expensive per-capita in the Country. On October 15, Senator Smith reported raising $12,349,811 and spending $11,149,656 up to three weeks before the race. His opponent, Jeff Merkley (D) raised $5,385,550 and spent $5,323,080. (Open Secrets – Oregon Senate Race) In addition to the expenditures of the two individual campaign organization, the Democratic and the Republican Senate campaign committees both added millions more in television advertising.

    Smith has a moderate record on issues, and he has shown sensitivity to the views of his constituents. His principal problem in the race was the overwhelming Democratic tilt of the state of Oregon, which has increased since Smith’s election 12 years ago. A Capitol Hill newspaper described it thus on the eve of the election: “Smith is running against a political atmosphere that is among the most toxic for Republicans in decades, a GOP president whose Oregon approval ratings are below the 26.5 percent national average, a Democratic voter-registration advantage that has grown to nearly 10 points in 12 months, and a top-of-the-ticket tide that could see Sen. Barak Obama swamp Sen. John McCain by double digits.” (Roll Call, October 28, 2008, “Will Obama Coattails Pull Merkley to Victory?”)

    During the race, Smith emphasized his cooperation with Democratic Senators Barak Obama and Edward M. Kennedy to highlight his ability to work across the aisle. He made no mention in his ads of Republican presidential candidate John McCain. (Washington Post: “GOP Senator Banks on Obama in Oregon Race – Ads Using Illinois Democrat Play to Tradition of Centrism”; New York Times – “An Oregon Republican Reaches for Coattails – Obama’s”). In response to Smith’s ads, the Democratic Senate campaign committee and the Obama campaign ran their own ads in the Oregon media emphasizing that Merkley was the Democratic Candidate.

    On election day, Barak Obama won Oregon’s electoral votes with a popular vote of 56% to 43%. Smith simply could not overcome the overwhelming tide.

    Congressman Tom Udall Democratic Congressman Tom Udall was in the opposite situation in New Mexico. In a year when the Democratic “brand” was hot, Udall outperformed even Barak Obama, winning election to the U.S. Senate by a margin of 61% to 39% while Obama carried the battleground state of New Mexico by a margin of 57% to 42%. New Mexico made a major shift in the Democratic direction, with all three of the state’s Congressional seats going Democratic, which contributed two seats to the Democratic pick-up in the House of Representatives.

    News coverage of Tom Udall’s election victory in New Mexico invariably paired him with his first cousin Senator-Elect Mark Udall of Colorado, who unlike his cousin Tom, is not a member of the Church, though Mark’s father Morris “Mo” Udall was a member of the Church. (U.S. News & World Report: “Two Udall Cousins win Senate Seats in Colorado and New Mexico”; Associated Press: “Profiles of new U.S. Senators”) The family relationship continues – Senator Gordon Smith is a second cousin of the two new Udall senators.

    Mormons in the House of Representatives. In the 110th Congress (2007-2008) now ending, 11 Latter-day Saints served in the House. All three of Utah’s current congressmen are members of the Church, and Arizona, Idaho, Nevada, and New Mexico each had one LDS Congressman. Three of California’s 53 members in Congress are Church members, and the territorial delegate of American Samoa is also a Church member. When Members of the House of Representatives are sworn in January 2009, however, only nine will be Latter-day Saints.

    One of the House seats no longer with a Mormon congressman is the New Mexico 3rd Congressional District seat held by Tom Udall, who will take a seat in the Senate. The winner of that open seat is not a member of the Church. The second House seat that will no longer held by a Church member is the California 4th Congressional District, which has been held by John Doolittle (R-CA), who was tainted by the Jack Abramoff corruption scandal and who announced in January of this year that he would not run for reelection. This normally reliably Republican seat ended in a dead heat with both Republican and Democratic candidates receiving 50% of the vote, and only 451 votes out of some 311,091 cast separating the Republican victor from the Democratic looser. Neither is a church member.

    Jason Chaffetz – the New LDS Congressman from Utah. In June six-term Congressman Chris Cannon (R-Utah 3rd Congressional District of Utah) lost the Republican primary to Jason Chaffetz. O November 4th, Chaffetz won that congressional seat with 66% to his Democratic opponent’s 28%. Chaffetz is a double convert. He joined the Church after attending BYU where he played football. He is also a convert to the Republican party. Chaffetz’s father was married to “Kitty” Dukakis, whose subsequent husband was Massachusetts governor and Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis.

    As an undergraduate at BYU in 1988, Jason Chaffetz was a Utah co-chair of the Dukakis campaign. As a Republican in 2004, Chaffetz managed the successful gubernatorial campaign of Jon Huntsman, Jr., and he served as Huntsman’s Chief of Staff for the first year of his first term. By some measures, Utah’s 3rd Congressional District is the most Republican district in the United States, and Chaffetz’s conservative campaign brought him a very strong vote for a first-time congressman. (Provo Daily Herald, “Chaffetz sweeps 3rd District election”; The Salt Lake Tribune, “Congressman-elect Chaffetz fears nation shifting toward ‘socialism’”)

    Eight LDS Congressmen Reelected. Eight of the Church members in Congress were reelected to the House:

    Rob Bishop (R – Utah 1st Congressional District) – Rob Bishop was reelected to his 4th term in Congress by a vote of 65% to 31%. This district, one of the most reliably Republican in the country, gave George W. Bush 73% of the vote in 2004. (Standard Net: “Bishop Returning to Congress”)

    Jim Matheson (D – Utah 2nd Congressional District) – Democrat Jim Matheson again won his 5th term in a surprisingly strong showing defeating his Republican opponent by 63% to 35% in a congressional district that gave George W. Bush 67% of the vote in 2004. Matheson’s conservative position on issues and his strong links to a prominent Utah political family (his father Scott Matheson was a three-term governor of the state). (Deseret Valley Times: “Matheson holds onto post”)

    Mike Simpson (R – Idaho 2nd Congressional District) – Church member Mike Simpson won his 6th term representing southeast Idaho with 71% to his opponent’s 29% of the vote. The district is solidly Republican, but this year was unusual even in Idaho. In the other Idaho Congressional district, the Republican congressman, who was seeking reelection, lost his race with 49% of the vote to his opponent’s 51%. (Times-News / “District 2 voters reelect Simpson”)

    Dean Heller (R-Nevada 2nd Congressional District) – Freshman Congressman Dean Heller won his bid for a 2nd term in the congressional district that covers all of the state of Nevada except populous Clark County (Las Vegas). Heller won his primary election in 2006 by only 421 votes, but he won the general election that year with 50% of the vote to his opponent’s 45%. This year he faced a rematch against the same tough Democratic opponent, but came through with 52% to 41%. This was no easy feat since Nevada was one of the hotly contested Presidential battlegrounds, and the Obama campaign, which won Nevada by 55% to 43%, poured considerable resources into voting efforts in the state. The effects of that effort were evident in Nevada’s 3rd Congressional District when the Republican incumbent was defeated in his bid for a 4th term by 48% to his 42% of the vote. (San Francisco Chronicle / Associated Press – “Heller rare bright spot for Nevada’s GOP”)

    Jeff Flake (R-Arizona 6th Congressional District) – Jeff Flake managed to get the best vote of any of the Republican candidates running in Arizona on November 4 – including John McCain, the Republican presidential favorite son. Flake received 62% of the vote to his opponent’s 35% in the 6th District, which is among the most Republican in the state. It includes affluent suburbs north and west of Phoenix and the most Mormon parts of the Phoenix metropolitan area. State-wide, McCain received 54% of the vote to 45% for Obama. As one of the leading advocates for cutting federal spending, Flake was featured prominently in a Los Angeles Times article on Republican soul-searching after the election. In response to political operatives expressing “confidence that Bush’s departure in January would help the party return to its roots,” Flake said “We’re finally untethered from the big-government conservatism that defined the Bush administration.” But at the same time, “Flake also urged the party to move away from so-called wedge issues, such as immigration, which Republican strategists historically looked to for an electoral advantage.” “That has not served our party well,” Flake said. (Los Angeles Times: “Republicans try to shake off political hangover”) Flake’s name is being bandied about as a possible successor to U.S. Senator John McCain if he retires from the Senate when his current Senate term expires at the end of 2010.

    Wally Herger (R-California 2nd Congressional District) – Congressman Herger was reelected to his 12th term in Congress by a vote of 57% to 43%. With 22 years experience representing this district, Herger is well known by his constituents, but in this Democratic year his percent of the vote was down from the 64% he received in 2006, and that too was a good year for Democrats. In 2004 and 2002 he received 67% and 66% of the vote respectively.

    Buck McKeon (R-California 25th Congressional District) – Buck McKeon defeated his Democratic challenger by 58% to 42%, but that was his lowest percentage in recent elections. In 2006 (also a good year for Democrats), McKeon got 60% of the vote, but in the 2002 and 2004 elections (which were good elections for Republicans) he received 65% of the vote. The 53 California congressional districts are drawn so that there are few problems for incumbents facing reelection. (Santa Clarita Valley Signal: “McKeon Wins”)

    Eni Faleomavaega (D-American Samoa) – LDS Congressman Faleomavaega is one of the five territorial delegates to represent American territories in the House of Representatives. He was reelected to his 11th term representing American Samoa with over 60% of the vote. (Pacific Magazine: Faleomavaega Cruises to Reelection; Run-off in Governor’s Race)

    Steve Young, unsuccessful Democratic candidate for Congress in California – Steve Young, a member of the Church but not the BYU and San Francisco 49ers quarterback, was the Democratic candidate in the 48th Congressional District of California. The district includes coastal areas of Orange County in southern California, including Newport Beach, Laguna Beach, and Irvine. This was Young’s third try for this Congressional seat. He received 28% of the vote in 2005 in a special election to replace the previous representative who resigned to become Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission. In 2006 he received 37% of the vote, and on November 4th he received 41% of the vote against Republican Congressman John Campbell. (Steve Young for Congress)


    1. Flake’s district is the North and Eastern portions of the Phx metropolitan area — not that it makes a big difference. But the West side of the Valley does not have the density of church members as does the East Valley (Mesa, Gilbert, etc.).

      I still would like to hear a distinction between which of these leaders are active LDS members and which are simply “Mormon” by heritage.

    2. Interesting, thanks!

    3. It would be interesting to be a fly on the wall in some discussions in the Steve Young (CA-48) campaign and how Young’s religion was interacting (or not) with the Prop 8 stuff.

    4. Who is a real Mormon? Rebecca (Comment #1) asks “who are active LDS members and which are simply ‘Mormon’ by heritage.” When the Church publishes the official annual statistical report of Church membership, all 14 of these LDS Members of Congress are included in that number. The number that have temple recommends or pay a full tithing or do their Home Teaching is something that only their bishops know, and that is the kind of information that is not made public by the Church.

      The usual assumption made by some is that only Republicans are active Church members and the Democrats are Mormon in name only. Based on my own knowledge of these men, some Democrats are “active” and some are “less active”; some Republicans are “active” and some are “less active.” The point is that when asked for their religious identification, these are the Members of Congress who consider themselves to be Latter-day Saints.

      When Jewish or Roman Catholic Members of Congress are identified, there is not an effort to identify which Jewish members are “observant” and which eat shrimp, nor is there an effort to determine which Roman Catholics have taken communion in the last six months.

    5. Seeing Orrin Hatch up there makes me think two words “Term limits”. Sorry, just had to say it. I mean, I’m not against the guy, nor am I a Utahn, but he’s been a senator forever….

    6. Martin Willey says:

      Lots of interesting facts. Utah is full of people, like Chaffetz, who were Democrats when young, then “converted” to Republicanism to run for office. I have always assumed that they have no soul. It certainly seems true of Chaffetz, who went from working for Dukakis to being a right wing extremist who wants to put illegal immigrants in tent camps.

    7. Um, Martin, that is so not true. Jason converted to both the LDS church and the Republican party almost 20 years ago. He also never said “tent camps”, “tent cities”, etc. What he did say is that we have 600,000 fugitive aliens in this country – those here illegally who have gone on to commit crimes, have appeared before a judge and ordered to return home but disappeared into our neighborhoods instead. His quote was this: “Joe Arapio of Maricopa county, Arizona, has said that if tents are good enough for our troops in Iraq, they are good enough for our prisoners. I agree.” And I agree with Jason quoting Joe. He never advocated tossing families or whatever into “tent camps”. He is a good, honorable man, a hard worker and one who understands and embraces the conservative principles this country was founded on.

    8. Martin, I must also protest your mischaracterization both of Jason Chaffetz, and of Utah legislators in general.

      Specifically, which of Utah’s Congressmen or Senators has switched to the Republican party to get elected?

      What you’re suggesting has several implications, not the least of which is that Utah voters are unsophisticated, being easily deceived by Democrats masquerading as Republicans.

      Most people in my precinct would strongly disagree with you.

    9. Little Sister says:

      Thanks Bob!!

      And way to go Jim Matheson! Those are some incredible numbers. I’m also not shedding any tears over Chris Cannon getting ousted, even if by another Republican.