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Utah Democrats have tried many ways to attract mainstream Utah voters who happen to be LDS and conservative on social issues but conducive to traditional Democratic values like support for public education, affordable health care for all and economic justice for the middle class.

So far, none of those efforts have worked.

Mormons self-identify as Republicans more than any other religion. In Utah, the Utah Legislature is overwhelmingly Mormon and Republican. The congressional delegation is 100 percent Mormon and Republican and all five statewide elected officeholders are Mormon and Republican.

Outside Salt Lake County, finding a Democratic elected official is more difficult than finding Waldo.

But there is a group of dedicated moderate Democrats, most of whom are Mormon, who are giving it another try.

"There are no normal people in the Utah House of Representatives anymore," says former Democratic State Sen. Scott Howell, a board member of the recently formed Utah Centrist Democratic Council (UCDC).

"There are a few normal Republicans in the House," countered State Democratic Party Chairman Peter Corroon. "They're just not allowed to talk without being punished."

Howell and Corroon represent different ways of achieving the same goal: reaching out to a large moderate LDS population that has veered to the Republican Party's conservative principles over the past few decades but may be getting uncomfortable with how extreme that party has become.

A case in point is the Republican-dominated Utah House's absolute inability to come to an agreement on expanded Medicare that would help tens of thousands of Utah families who otherwise will have no health care.

Corroon describes the Democratic Party as a big-tent that can be welcoming to many points of view.

The hot-button issue of access to abortion is hard to reconcile between the Democratic pro-choice base and LDS faithful who morally cannot abide the practice. But Corroon says the party can be attractive to moderates in so many ways, it should be considered a comfortable home to many Mormons.

The LDS Dems caucus, which was formed under the chairmanship of former chair and State Sen. Jim Dabakis, who is openly gay, is now the Utah Democratic Party's largest caucus with more than 4,300 members.

He would like to see the UCDC come into the party fold as a caucus.

But that's not the path favored by UCDC founder Richard Davis, a political-science professor at BYU and the former chair of the Utah County Democratic Party. (Yes, Virginia, there are some Democrats in Utah County).

Davis set up the UCDC as a 501-C4, a tax-exempt organization that can help political candidates in elections as long as it doesn't give directly to the candidate's campaign and does not coordinate with the campaign.

It operates like a super-PAC in the presidential elections.

Davis says under that format, the group can be a resource for candidates who reflect its mainstream values, whether they be Democrats, moderate Republicans or independents.

While the UCDC promotes its moderate political agenda without a religious litmus test, most of the group's board of directors are LDS.

Mormon Democrats for years have tried to find a way to bring their fellow LDS worshipers into the Democratic fold and make Utah a more balanced state politically. Howell, when he was in the State Senate in the 1990s, was part of a group that formed the Moderate Democratic Caucus. It mostly was made up of Mormon Democratic legislators, including Grant Protzman of Weber County, Kelly Atkinson of West Jordan and Stuart Reid, who later became a Republican, moved to Ogden and was elected to the Utah Senate.

Its chairman was then State Rep. Frank Pignanelli, who was given the most high-profile position in the caucus so it would not be seen as an attempted Mormon takeover of the party. Pignanelli is Catholic.

Still, there was a great deal of suspicion within the Democratic base, and the caucus didn't last.

In 2000, Democratic leaders actively sought active Mormons to run for high profile offices. Howell ran for the U.S. Senate against Republican Orrin Hatch. Kathleen McConkie Collinwood ran against Republican Jim Hansen for the 1st Congressional District. Bill Orton ran against Mike Leavitt for governor, and Reed Richards ran against Mark Shurtleff for Utah attorney general.

Every one of those high-profile Mormon Democrats lost. —