LDS Power in Nevada

Speaking of casinos and campaigning, we are on the brink of Nevada’s caucuses, being held on February 4 after ricocheting around the calendar last year in the usual game of musical chairs among “early” states. And from the very beginning of the “invisible primary” last year, Nevada has been generally conceded to Mitt Romney, no matter how he has been doing elsewhere or nationally.

A new poll conducted by UNLV for local Las Vegas media explains why. Although they represent only 7% of Nevada’s population, LDS members are expected to make up one-fourth of caucus-goers, with 86% saying they will vote for their co-religionist. That’s almost exactly what happened in 2008, when 26% of caucus-goers were Mormons, and 95% voted for Mitt. With that sort of hard-core base, it’s no surprise Romney leads the current poll with 45% of likely caucus-goers, with Newt Gingrich at 25%, Rick Santorum at 11%, and Ron Paul at 9%.

Gingrich has little chance of winning Nevada, but is getting some circus-like buzz in the state thanks to his impending endorsement from the freakishly omnipresent Donald Trump, which presumably pulls a few Birther votes, and his close (one might say feudal) relationship with another casino owner, Sheldon Adelson, who will have the opportunity to vote for Newt on Saturday at a special separate evening caucus for Orthodox Jews and Seventh-Day Adventists held in a center named for his family (though he denies any involvement with setting it up, since he’s not Orthodox).

For all the talk of Romney’s religion hurting him because of a “backlash” from evangelicals, there’s no question he benefits from a “frontlash” of LDS voters expressing solidarity with him, just as Catholic voters did for JFK in 1960 when he sought to become that group’s first president. They matter a lot in NV, and will also matter on February 28 in Arizona (6% LDS), and in later caucuses in Idaho (27% LDS) and Wyoming (11% LDS), right down to heavily-Mormon Utah, which ends the whole nominating process on June 26.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.