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Seizing on an opportunity to capitalize on tepid support for Donald Trump in the historic Republican stronghold of Utah, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton made an extraordinary appeal to Mormon voters Wednesday, touting her support for religious liberty and defense of the Constitution.
"This November, what's at stake is nothing less than the kind of nation we want to be," Clinton wrote in an op-ed for the LDS Church-owned Deseret News. "It's up to us whether we'll retreat behind Trump's notion that there's only one right way to be an American, or whether we'll recognize the fundamental wisdom of our Constitution that teaches we all need each other for this country to flourish."
The former secretary of state and New York senator cites 2012 GOP presidential nominee and high-profile Mormon Mitt Romney and his criticism of Trump. She also references LDS leaders from church founder Joseph Smith to former Primary general President Rosemary Wixom, who oversaw the faith's children's organization, and Mormonism's current president, Thomas S. Monson.
Clinton hammers Trump on his call to ban Muslim immigration to the country, saying it would "undo centuries of American tradition and values," while citing her own work as secretary of state, saying it was a "cornerstone of our foreign policy to protect the rights of religious minorities around the world."
"We stood up for these oppressed communities because Americans know that democracy ceases to exist when a leader or ruling faction can impose a particular faith on everyone else," Clinton wrote in the piece for the News.
Clinton is not the only presidential candidate attempting to make inroads with Mormon Republicans disenchanted with the party's nominee.
On Wednesday evening, Evan McMullin a Provo-born Mormon who graduated from Brigham Young University and spent his career in counterterrorism with the CIA and investment banking with Goldman Sachs opened his national campaign headquarters in front of about 150 people in Salt Lake City.
"If Americans are frustrated with where this country is headed, they need a better choice, and I hope to offer that and I think that's what people are responding to," McMullin said. "I hoped somebody else would [run], someone with national name recognition. ... But that simply didn't happen, so at the last minute, I felt like I had to do it."
If it remains a contest between Trump and Clinton, McMullin said, Clinton is guaranteed to inhabit the White House.
"When we entered the race 48 hours ago, he was down 10 percent and still putting his foot in his mouth. That isn't going to stop. That's been his life," McMullin said. "I don't even know that Donald Trump will make it through this election."
Small donations have been rolling into McMullin's campaign since he announced his candidacy, he said, and he is having conversations with big donors, "very, very positive feedback."
Karma Campozano and her husband, Jorge Componzano, came to the McMullin kickoff because they are frustrated with the other options.
"They go against our principles," said Jorge Campozano.
"We're normally Republican," said Karma Campozano, "but my husband is an immigrant, a naturalized citizen, but just [Trump's] stand against and generalizing Latinos and Muslims and the rhetoric, he seems to be pro-violence and he's just too extreme. And I think Hillary is way corrupt, so who do you vote for?"
She said she hopes now, with McMullin, she can cast a ballot for someone she actually believes in.
McMullin is billing himself as a conservative alternative to Trump and is trying to get on the ballot in as many states as possible although deadlines have passed in more than half.
Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson, who is polling at 16 percent in the state, attempted recently to clarify comments that seemed to associate members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with religious-motivated violence, by saying in a Deseret News editorial that he was trying to articulate that Mormons had been persecuted for their faith.
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Chris Karpowitz, co-director of the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy at LDS Church-owned Brigham Young University, said Clinton's bid to woo Mormons is unprecedented.
"I have not seen a Democrat appeal to Mormon voters around issues of religious freedom at the presidential level in the way Hillary Clinton has done," he said. "I've never seen a candidate talk so directly about issues like a religious test for immigrants and the treatment of refugees. Now, that's partly because Donald Trump gave a gigantic opening to the Democrats to talk about those issues."
Karpowitz said Clinton is "hitting all the notes" that would appeal to Mormon voters, but whether the message resonates or is seen as pandering will probably depend on how voters already view Clinton.
"If the Clinton camp really thinks they do have an opening here in Utah, that's remarkable in its own right, and a sign of just how weak Donald Trump is here," Karpowitz said, adding that McMullin's entry into the race adds another unknown to the dynamic. "If someone like Evan McMullin is going to take votes primarily from Trump, people who otherwise would have voted for Trump, then he really could help put the state in play."
But Utah Republican Party Chairman James Evans dismissed Clinton's appeal as political opportunism that voters have come to expect.
"It's a cynical attempt, and the one thing you have to give Hillary Clinton is she has no qualms about being who she needs to be in front of whatever audience she's in front of," Evans said. "I don't think [her message] has an impact, because you can't erase 30 years of who she is with one op-ed."
The editorial was likely timed, Evans said, to bolster a fundraising visit by her husband, former President Bill Clinton, on Thursday. Clinton is scheduled to hold a private fundraiser at the home of Barry and Amy Baker, who hosted a similar event for Hillary Clinton last year.
Barry Baker is the former president of USA Networks and is now a managing director of Boston Ventures, a major investment firm. Amy Baker spent 20 years at NBC News. The former president will not hold any public events during his visit.
Evans also downplayed the impact of McMullin's entry into the race, saying Trump is the only GOP candidate in the field and the only option to stop Clinton.
"When it's time to cast that ballot, the race is going to be between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, and Utah has a decision to make: whether they want their electoral votes to go to Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, because those are the only two options," Evans said.
Crystal Young-Otterstrom, head of the LDS Democrats in Utah, said Clinton's piece speaks to the point that Democrats share Mormon values when it comes to being pro-family, caring about the Constitution and religious freedom.
"It's not pandering. Those are her true values," Young-Otterstrom said. "She is the candidate who has spoken forcefully for protecting religious freedom for everyone. She is the candidate who is talking about real and compassionate immigration reform. She is the candidate talking about parental leave, improved child care, improved education. None of those are values she has changed for Utah. Those are values she already holds and they're values that Utah voters have."