Utah’s Democrats like to blame their small numbers on the Hill on gerrymandering. If that’s true, then why aren’t they doing anything to reverse the tide ahead of 2020?
2014 should be a critical election for Utah’s minority party. If they want to break the Republican hegemony on the Hill, then they should be continuing the all-out assault on Republicans in this year’s elections. But they’re not, and it’s a huge missed opportunity.
2012 saw a number of near-misses for Democrats. They came close to picking off a few Republican seats despite the presence of Mitt Romney on the ticket.
You would think that momentum would translate to 2014, but it hasn’t. More than 10% of the legislative seats up for grabs don’t have a Democratic challenger. One in ten! Some Democrats privately grumble that the party completely botched candidate recruitment this year.
In fact, some party officials were openly lobbying to find candidates on their personal social media feeds - hoping to entice a political jabroni or two into making a doomed run at the state house. That Facebook begging is unseemly and embarrassing.
A phrase I heard more than once from Democrats about the anemic effort to field a political slate was “political malpractice.” All of those seats without a Democratic challenger means the Utah GOP can throw money and resources at other contests - and maybe try to knock off a Democratic incumbent or two.
Another missed opportunity - 2014 could have been the year of John Swallow. Talk about a ready-made campaign issue. Democrats could have smeared Republicans far and wide with the Swallow scandal. We will never know how successful that tactic could have been, but it for sure would have made for some uncomfortable moments for GOP candidates.
But, given the middling slate of candidates fielded by the Democrats, this opportunity is falling by the wayside like HB 477 and other instant campaign fodder that came before.
There’s one race this year that could be a bellwether for future contests in Utah - House District #31 currently held by Democrat Larry Wiley. That seat is on the west side of Salt Lake City, long a Democratic stronghold...but that has been crumbling a bit.
In 2010, Republican Daniel Thatcher knocked off longtime Democrat Brent Goodfellow on the west side. That loss shocked Democrats. If Wiley loses, and there’s a very good possibility he might, that could be the start of a political armageddon for them. Aside from the Avenues, the west side of Salt Lake County is an area the Democrats cannot allow to become competitive for Republicans.
One of Wiley’s potential challengers, Republican Sofia DiCaro, has been described to me by both Republicans and Democrats as a “political rock star” in the making. The consensus is if she captures the Republican nomination in that district, Wiley is going to have a dickens of a time hanging on to his seat.
If Democrats want to change the political culture, they have an almost Sisyphean task. They can’t count on a wave election to sweep a large number of their candidates into office. They have to grind out wins where they can and slowly build momentum from election to election.
Democrats constantly moan about the poor hand dealt to them by gerrymandered districts - that they should have more numbers in the legislature based on the percentage of the vote they pull in during the election. In order to cut down on the gerrymandering during redistricting, there needs to be more Democrats on the Hill. In order to get more Democrats, you have to knock off some Republicans.
This year would have been a good start pointing toward the 2020 election. Sadly, that effort may have to wait until 2016.
“Of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these, ‘It might have been.’” John Greenleaf Whittier.