Mormons cool to Trump are finding new influence in Arizona

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In this Aug. 11, 2020, photo Yasser Sanchez, a lifelong Republican, member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and immigration attorney, is supporting Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, repelled by Republican President Donald Trump, shown here in Mesa, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

MESA, Ariz. – Yasser Sanchez has twice worked to defeat Joe Biden’s bids for the vice presidency by building support for Republican candidates among his fellow members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It wasn't hard.

Now the lifelong Republican finds himself in the surprising position of supporting Biden — and repelled from his party, he says, by President Donald Trump.

“We’re taught to be steady, to be basically the opposite of the way he’s lived his life,” Sanchez said.

Sanchez's view isn't as unusual as the Trump campaign would like.

While many conservative-leaning religious voters warmed to him long ago, Trump has struggled to win over Latter-day Saints. His penchant for foul language clashes with the church's culture teaching modesty and self-restraint, and his isolationist foreign policy is anathema to a faith spreading rapidly around the world.

It hasn't helped that Trump has made a show of feuding with Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, among the best known members of the church.

Once just a headache for the White House, Trump's relative weakness with Latter-day Saints is now a growing political liability. His standing has slumped in several pivotal states, including Arizona, where members of the faith make up 6% of the population. Many are clustered around Phoenix, areas where Republicans have struggled to hold their ground in the Trump era.

This past week the Trump campaign launched its Latter-day Saints for Trump Coalition, sending Vice President Mike Pence to Mesa, a suburb of Phoenix, for the kickoff. Pence, who often serves as Trump's emissary to religious conservatives, appealed to church members' opposition to abortion rights and longstanding concerns over religious liberty.