For Mormon Democrats, a new kind of mission

·Political Reporter

CHARLOTTE, N.C.—Mormon Democrats attending their party convention this year have a simple message they want to share with the world: We exist!

Crammed shoulder to shoulder inside a Holiday Inn conference room, members of the fledgling Mormon caucus, LDS Democrats, held its first national meeting here on Tuesday, chatting about the future of the party over plates of fruit, cheese and crackers. Sheltered from the pouring rain outside, a few hundred attendees—not all Mormons—met to provide each other with moral support and to remind each other that yes, there are other Mormon Democrats.

In fact, there are more than you might think. The caucus, the largest in the Utah Democratic Party, estimates there are more than 1 million Democratic church members nationwide. State exit polls suggest that about 8 percent of Mormons in Utah vote Democratic.

"We are not small!" shouted Crystal Young-Otterstrom, chairwoman of the LDS Dems Caucus, before introducing the gathering's guest of honor, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

The national group formed last October, and this meeting of about 200 people at the Democratic National Convention provided an opportunity to gather on the national scale for the first time.

The caucus finds unity around economic issues, with a focus primarily on government assistance for the poor. There is little talk of social issues like gay marriage and abortion within the caucus, Young-Otterstrom said.

"They don't have to agree with everything, we're a big tent. We can embrace all positions," she said, and paused. "All social positions I should say. We're such a minority within our own religion that we often feel alone. We all know what it's like to squirm in Sunday school when there's the crazy tea party guy spouting off about government control."

After a prayer and singing of the hymn "Have I Done Any Good in the World Today?" Reid walked toward the lectern in front of the room. As the highest-ranking Mormon politician, Reid was on hand to deliver an address of encouragement, telling the group to continue working to change the notion that Mormons are less politically homogenous than at first glance.

"For 30 years I've been trying to change that perception," Reid said. "Don't be afraid of what your neighbors think if you know you're headed in the right direction."

He was speaking to the choir, but Reid implored the group to vote for President Barack Obama, taking special care to assure them that he has "never, ever heard him swear an oath to anybody or about anybody," and that "he's not a foul-mouthed man."