The Other Mormon Candidate

Chris Henrichsen, Democrat, is running for Congress in Wyoming against well-funded Republican Representative Cynthia Lummis. Not only that, he’s a Mormon. While he hasn’t been featured in “I’m a Mormon” commercials yet, he has been in the Washington Post and written up by the AP in papers across the country. Henrichsen may be waging a David v. Goliath battle, but he is giving it his all.

Unlike that other well-known Mormon candidate, Henrichsen isn’t riding around Wyoming in a well-appointed bus. He spoke with me recently via Skype from the front seat of his Suburban as his wife drove him to another campaign engagement. Chris, a very amenable guy, is not only running for congress, but teaching SIX sections of Political Science at Casper College. That would be yeoman’s duty without running for congress, but in an election where his opponent has about 40 million to spend, it’s a bit daunting! Students have a good attitude about his run for congress, he told me, and it makes for great classroom conversation.

Some on the campaign trail have told Henrichsen to “stop talking about being Mormon.” He also gets a lot of questions about California’s Proposition 8. For him, it is easier to talk about these subjects as a political candidate than as a person of faith. His rationale is that by telling something about being LDS, it helps him on the campaign trail because it is very much a part of the Western story, especially in Wyoming, where Mormons trekked through on the way to what would become Utah.

Henrichsen’s run also highlights an aspect of Mormon culture: in his words “Mormon culture is focused on professions, where success is viewed as a good by the community.” Perhaps articulating what Mitt Romney doesn’t know how to say well, Henrichsen’s good cheer and industrious politicking will pay off. It is certainly that spirit that keeps him logging many miles on the campaign trail.

What I find interesting about Henrichsen, along with his fellow Democratic Mormons, is a willingness to take the principles of their beliefs and apply them in a completely different way from where the Mormon mainstream is politically. Henrichsen is happy about the Affordable Health Care act, which definitely squares with Mormons’ care for their community and those in need. But he is “pro-life” as well, and is of course, pro-gun, living in Wyoming.

For Henrichsen, government isn’t the enemy, but a chance to serve his fellow Wyomingites in congress, representing them rather the big money interests that have bankrolled Cynthia Lummis. It is also a way to talk about who he is as a Mormon. I think he’d make a fine candidate for the next round of “And I’m a Mormon” spots whether or not he is elected to congress. With some hard work and LDS door-knocking determination, he might land his one smooth stone just right.

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