It was a little jarring to review my ballot for Iron County and see so many unopposed races. My state senator didn’t have any opponent. My representative had a third-party opponent which is almost the same thing. Aside from a couple of write-in candidates (neither of whom broke 20%), all of the county races were unopposed. After having to make a lot of careful choices and analysis from living in major metro areas like Las Vegas and Salt Lake City, it didn’t sit well with me to have so few ballot options presented to me. And yet, it’s almost like Utah’s Democratic Party don’t care to even try to get my vote.
One problem that Utah Democrats run into is the political reality of Utah. We are, by and large, a state of conservative Republicans. Most people really like their sports team party labels, and more like their candidates to reflect their preferred ideology. A fairly large contingent of the Utah Democrats, however, seem to believe that they can win more races by fielding more liberal candidates. It’s a divorce from reality that keeps the party fighting itself to field their few successful moderates like Ben McAdams and Jim Matheson. Sure, a firebrand like Brian King can win a safe spot in Salt Lake City, but good luck getting him to win a race in Draper.
Of course, Utahns may not even get the chance to reject those candidates since they don’t even run. It’s not just Iron County that saw an almost total absence of Democratic options. The Utah County Democratic Party literally forgot that there were races they needed to recruit candidates for. Most other counties that weren’t Salt Lake ended up with few, if any, Democratic office-seekers. Heck, even the race for surveyor and one of the county council races in Salt Lake County had unopposed Republican. Talk about missing 100% of the shots you don’t take.
This inability to support more conservative Democrats combined with not running any candidates completely blew at least two prime opportunities.
Utah County has long been kind of a laughingstock for how long it takes the clerk’s office to process returns. Hours or days after even rural counties are more-or-less done on election night, they’re still working on getting final tallies. It’s been like this for years too. Since elections are one of the clerk’s few jobs, it seems like it should be a natural fit to find a solid administrator to run on a platform of “the incumbent can’t do his job”, right? And yet, no Democratic challenger has appeared for multiple election cycles.
This is nothing compared to the race for Utah County Commission. Greg Graves was a prime target for a minority party upset. He grabbed the GOP nomination for a county commission seat before anyone found out that he had a less-than-flattering history. This prompted a write-in candidate, Bill Freeze, to jump into the race. He ended up securing a lot of support from Republicans in Utah County and managed almost 30% of the vote. For a write-in candidate, that’s actually quite good. But despite this weak candidate and an obvious hunger for an alternative, there was no Democratic candidate to attempt to split the vote even further and pull off an upset with a plurality. It was a golden opportunity that was entirely squandered.
Contrast, however, with Republican opponents in solidly Democratic strongholds. Only four legislative races, two House and two Senate, had unopposed Democrats, even in safe districts. Sure, the Republicans got creamed by as much as 68 points, but they at least made an effort to provide some kind of choice. That’s an effort that Utah’s Democratic Party doesn’t seem to be willing or able to make.
As a Republican, I generally don’t mind when my team walks away the victor. As an American, it makes me sad that they’re winning so often because the other team is forfeiting.