A few hundred Mormons filed into a chapel just outside the Washington Beltway one recent Sunday to hear a somewhat unusual presentation: an Obama administration official recounting his conversion to Mormonism.
"I have never in my life had a more powerful experience than that spiritual moment when the spirit of Christ testified to me that the Book of Mormon is true," Larry Echo Hawk told the audience, which stretched back through the spacious sanctuary and into a gymnasium in the rear.
Echo Hawk's tear-stained testimonial stands out for a couple of reasons: The White House normally doesn't dispatch senior staff to bare their souls, and Mormons hew heavily Republican. It's not every day a top Democrat speaks from a pulpit owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
And yet the presentation by Echo Hawk, then head of the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, is also a perfect symbol of a phenomenon that could culminate in Mitt Romney's arrival at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue next year: The nation's capital has become a Mormon stronghold, with Latter-day Saints playing a big and growing role in the Washington establishment.