GOP Legislators Not Supporting a Southern Utah Democrat Turned Republican this Year

Christine WatkinsYears ago, state Rep. Eric Hutchings used to be a Democrat. And when he switched parties mid-term, House Republicans rallied around him.

The Salt Lake County and state GOP worked to make sure he was not challenged by a long-time Republican in convention, they supported his campaign financially – in fact targeted his Kearns district to make sure he won re-election.

But times have changed.

The Utah House GOP caucus and state party seems not to be behind another Democrat-turned-Republican this year – for the simple reason they have given her no money.

Christine Watkins used to be in House Democratic leadership, first elected from her Price area in 2008.

A former educator, she could be counted on to make tough votes on public school funding and other traditional Democratic causes, all while also watching out for her coal/energy producing interests and other rural issues.

She was the only Democratic House member not from Salt Lake County.

But after the 2011 GOP-controlled redistricting of the 75 House districts, her District 69 was pushed partly out of traditionally-Democratic Carbon County and more into Duchesne County – long a GOP stronghold.

Watkins lost her 2012 re-election race to a GOP-newcomer, Jerry Anderson, in what turned out to be a disastrous anti-President Barack Obama year in Utah.

Watkins then switched parties – ran as a Republican but lost in the 2014 state Republican Convention.

Undeterred, she’s running as a Republican again this year – and actually won the GOP nomination.

Not that it’s doing her much good, being inside a very different Utah GOP than Hutchings found in 2002.

House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, said he was surprised when UtahPolicy told him Watkins had received no financial support from the House GOP PAC, or from House caucus members.

“We like Christine,” said Hughes. “We actually think that is a seat we could pick up this year. I will look into the financial situation” of Watkins.

But it may be a little late for that, the election just a week away and Utahns already voting by mail.

Current House District 69 incumbent, Rep. Brad King, D-Price, who had held the seat for years before trying to jump to the Senate where he lost his 2008 race, has raised an impressive $22,727 so far this year, the latest campaign financial filings show.

King’s donations include several thousand dollars from House Democratic PACs, and from sitting House Democratic colleagues.

Watkins, however, has no contributions from House GOP leadership or their PACs.

No donations from any of the House Republicans, nor the state GOP.

She has $1,500 from the Carbon County GOP, and $300 from the Duchesne County Republican Party.

But that’s it.

Historically, GOP candidates with a chance of winning (even some who don’t have much of a chance) at least get some donations from sitting GOP House members who are running for House leadership posts – like speaker and majority leader.

Nothing like that for Watkins this year.

And while it would be a long drive from Price to Salt Lake City for an interim committee day, Watkins has not been present in any House open GOP caucuses this summer or fall, where GOP House nominees are introduced and feted.

“I haven’t asked for any contributions” from House Republicans, their PACs, or caucus members, Watkins told UtahPolicy.

“You would have to ask them why” they haven’t chosen to support her financially.

 “I am used to running a lean campaign,” she said. “And I’m pretty good at running a good campaign without a lot of money.”

Watkins is not only facing campaign financial challenges, last week her 31-year-old son, who was staying with them during an illness, suddenly passed away.

So besides having to deal with campaigning the final week of the election, now she is planning a funeral as well.

“All incumbents (like King) have a natural advantage,” Watkins told UtahPolicy. She did for several of her re-elections before the House GOP redrew her district to make it more rural and more Republican.

But Watkins remains optimistic. The number of GOP votes compared to the number of Democratic votes in the redistricted District 69 are still in her favor.

“This is an odd election year, who knows what will happen,” in her race, Watkins said.