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Utah's ardent love affair with the Republican Party has long been a source of heartbreak for the state's Democrats. A Democratic presidential candidate hasn't won Utah since Lyndon Johnson in 1964. In a lecture titled "Why is Utah the Reddest State?" political pollster Dan Jones offered explanations Sunday to some of the party's faithful at the First Unitarian Church of Salt Lake City.

When Utah earned statehood, "the Liberal Party had 11 percent of the vote. Today the Democratic Party [represents] 14 percent of the population. You've come a long way, baby," Jones deadpanned at the beginning of his speech.

Joking aside, Jones told about 100 people gathered for the church's Summer Forum lecture series that Utah's ruddy complexion is more complicated than simply pointing a finger at the state's Mormon majority. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he said, would like to see a stronger two-party system in Utah. Church leaders, including President Gordon B. Hinckley, have repeatedly said the religion is politically neutral.

Historically, though, LDS presidents did, at times, endorse candidates for the nation's highest office. But Mormons don't necessarily vote in step with such admonitions. In 1936, LDS president Heber J. Grant endorsed Republican Alfred Landon, but Franklin Delano Roosevelt carried Utah and won a second term.

"You have absolutely got to realize there are some fables [about Utah politics]. You don't have to be LDS to win in Utah," said Jones, co-owner of Dan Jones & Associates. "You've got two chances: slim and none. But you've got a chance."

Jones said that many Utahns did fall away from the Democratic Party after it became associated with abortion rights, gay rights and other social issues that might pose conflicts for those of the LDS faith. Primarily, though, he said the blame lies with the Democratic Party itself.

There is not a Democratic leader at the national level that Utahns can relate to, Jones said. And he said the party's failure to articulate an exit strategy in Iraq, create a clear policy on immigration or raise the minimum wage has made it hard to attract new voters.

The best way to make Utah a less-red state, Jones said, is to raise voter participation.

"Go vote and bring 10 of your neighbors with you," Jones said. "Democracy is not meant for the naive, the apathetic or the lethargic."

Jones' message was warmly received.

"This is exactly what we needed to stir us up and get us going," said attendee Marie G. Springer. "He's not telling us how to vote. He's telling us to vote. We need somebody to remind us of that."

Unitarian Summer Forum lectures

l What: The Summer Forum takes the place of regular services at the Unitarian church during the summer. Speakers are invited to address social and political issues, such as poverty, health care and First Amendment rights.

l Who: Anthropologist Ewa Wasilewska will conclude the 2006 series with a lecture on life in Iraq and Iran.

l Where: First Unitarian Church, 569 S. 1300 East, Salt Lake City.

l When: 10 a.m. Sunday.