What Do We Take Away from Election 2014 in Utah?

What Do We Take Away from Utah's 2014 Election?
The Utah State Capitol building overlooks the smoggy Salt Lake Valley December 17th, 2009.
Copyright © 2014 Jeff McGrath. All photos are Copyright protected. Use of images is prohibited without written consent of the Copyright owner.

Election 2014 was Mild, Except for Mia

Utah’s Election 2014 outcomes were pretty mild compared to the rest of America. While nationally voters were repudiating President Obama’s policies by voting for Republicans at all levels of government, here in Utah the only excitement was about Republican Mia Love’s win over Democrat Doug Owens for Utah’s 4th Congressional District to replace Congressman Jim Matheson, Utah’s highest profile Democrat for over a decade. Love substantially outraised and outspent her opponent, so it was no surprise she won. Dave Hansen, Utah Republican’s most experienced political consultant guided her to a relatively gaffe free campaign. As America’s first black Republican Congresswoman, Mia has a chance to represent Utah in a unique way. She runs the risk of being marginalized and needs to find issues important  to her constituents to fight for in Washington DC.

Utah Legislative Landscape After Election 2014

The Utah Legislative landscape is relatively unchanged. 2010 and 2012 brought high turnover in the Legislature and 2014 very little turnover. Republicans thought they could pick up a couple of Democrat seats in the State House and while Sophia DiCaro is within 33 votes in her District 31 race with Larry Wiley that could turn on the vote canvas. It is likely that Democrats held on to seats that were in play:  District 30 where Mike Lee won over Fred Cox by 108 votes and District 44 with Christine Passey over Bruce Cutler by 152 votes.

On the other side, Election 2014 saw Democrats pick up a Republican Carbon County seat they lost in 2012. Former State Legislator Brad King returns to the House with a win over businessman Bill Labrum (55%-44%). It was an odd year for that seat. Incumbent Jerry Anderson lost at convention as did Christine Watkins who formerly held the seat as a Democrat, then became a Republican to win the seat back. If you think that is confusing, then there is more…Labrum is from Duschesne and King is from Price, so while the region has trended Republican in recent years due to President Obama’s war on coal, there are more voters in Price than the rest of the district and it appears that the vote was more about geography rather than partisanship.

The only Republican seat that was close was District 34 where Johnny Anderson won over Karen Kwan by 202 votes.

In politics 60% or more of the vote is considered a landslide. Other than those we mentioned, Salt Lake County had 8 races with less than a landslide: District 49 Spendlove (56/43), District 46 Poulson (55/40), District 45 Eliason (56/43), District 43 Tanner (56/43), District 38 Hutchings (57/42), District 33 Hall (57/42), District 22 Duckworth (52/40) and Senator Dan Thatcher in District 12 (57/42). In Weber County, only two races were less than 60%; District 9 Peterson 56/43 and District 10 Pitcher (56/43).

With a combined 89 Legislative seats up for election, there were only 15 competitive races. Of those, 12 were in Salt Lake County.  Six of those seats are Democrat and nine are Republican. To give you some idea of how Republican Utah is, even if Democrats took every competitive race in the future Republicans would still have veto proof majorities in both the Utah House and Utah Senate.

The Big Picture

Now to some big picture trends over the years. When I first got involved in politics in the early 1990s, there were many more parts of Utah in play for Democrats. In fact, until 1996 there were Democrats in the Legislature from Utah County. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Democrats began taking seats on the east bench of Salt Lake County from Republicans and moving farther and farther south. In 2008, a Democrat won over House Speaker Greg Curtis in Sandy and it appeared that Democrats had gained long term momentum on the east bench. But change happened. Derek Brown and Steve Eliason won races in 2010 in Sandy. And Republicans have stopped the momentum for several cycles. It appears that District 45 and District 46 are now the partisan dividing lines. Another significant trend over the last 10 years is that Weber County has gone Republican. County races in addition to Legislative races have trended more and more Republican there.

It used to be in statewide races that if a Republican could tie in Salt Lake County, they would win easily. The margin of victory for Republicans in Utah County and Davis County were so great that a Democrat could not win. That is why in the last 28 statewide races, Democrats have been shut out.

In terms of demographics, much of the population growth is happening in Republican areas and Republicans continue to poll very well there. About the only glimmer of hope for Democrats is that Utah’s minority population is growing and much of that population is assumed to vote Democrat.

Some might think from this election review that Utah is ideologically very conservative and strongly Republican, yet I can point to vouchers failing in 2008 and a couple of failed constitutional amendments this year that show that voters are much more pragmatic than that. The turnover on the State school board this year can’t be explained in partisan terms. I read recently of research that  indicates that Utah voters follow their religious tenets more than political party. That may somewhat explain this voting behavior.

In any case, another year of elections are now past and for the next two years, until the next election, politicos will speculate on this year’s election results.

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