Democrats Pick Up Four Seats in the Utah House; Lose Only Seat Outside of Salt Lake County

Utah State Capitol 04Preliminary and unofficial votes Tuesday night show Utah House Democrats picked up four seats in close elections in Salt Lake County.

But Democrats lost Rep. Brad King’s Carbon County/Southeastern Utah District 69 – meaning only a three-seat pickup for the minority party overall.

That will bring the 2017 House to 15 Democrats and 60 Republicans – continuing the super-majority of GOP representatives, which means a veto-override or passage of a constitutional amendment without the need for any Democratic votes.

Once again, all Utah House Democratic seats will be in Salt Lake County – showing the minority party can’t win outside of this very urban setting.

Unlike the U.S. presidential and U.S. Senate races – which were grossly missed in various pre-election prognostications — those Utah state House wins for Democrats are about what may politicos and pundits thought would be the case.

All four Tuesday night Democratic wins were close – and just like two years ago the official canvass could flip one or more of them into the Republican column.

You may remember that two years ago three Salt Lake County Democrats believed they had one on Election Night, only to see Republicans flip three seats after all of the absentee and late mail-in ballots were counted.

It appeared early Wednesday morning that Rep. Sophia DiCaro, R-West Valley, who won her seat two years ago by just 195 votes, fell in a close race (270 votes) to Democrat Elizabeth Weight in House District 31.

Likewise, Rep. Bruce Cutler, R-Murray, was beaten by Democrat Christine Passey – who lost to Cutler in 2014 by 53 votes in House District 44, was defeated by the unofficial count of 226 votes.

House District 34 is held by retiring GOP Rep. Johnny Anderson. Again in a close race Democrat Karen Kwan beat newcomer Republican Macade Jensen.

An upset win for Democrats was House District 32, where long-time Rep. LaVar Christensen, R-Draper, was beaten by just 195 votes by Democrat Suzanne Harrison, a medical doctor.

You can see the final, but unofficial vote counts on the Salt Lake County Clerk’s election page here.

The various county canvasses take place about two weeks after the general election, and those and other tight legislative races could be turned around then.

Salt Lake County ballot counts took place later than usual Tuesday night, in main partly because of crowded polling places – where citizens who were in line at 8 p.m. were allowed to vote – with the final tallies coming after 1 a.m.

Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen decided as the evening wore on that she would not release any vote totals – and upwards of 50 percent of voters used mail-in ballots, most of which were sitting in her office and their totals could have been released when polls closed at 8 p.m. – until all of the voting had taken place, and those in line had a chance to cast their ballots.

All of which delayed the Salt Lake County vote tallies – and the closest races were in that county.

The King race was really strange. He was beaten by Republican Christine Watkins – who, oddly enough, was actually in House Democratic leadership four years ago before losing her seat to a Republican, switching parties, and winning the GOP nomination in House District 69 this year.

Democrats appear to have held the Magna seat of Rep. Susan Duckworth. Republicans believed Duckworth could be vulnerable this year because of the changing makeup of the district – which historically was made up of blue-collar Kennecott workers, but is seeing new GOP-leaning young families moving in.

Duckworth dispatched GOP challenger Jamie White in a close contest.

Democrats hoped to pick up the Taylorsville District 39 seat of House Majority Leader Jim Dunnigan, and Democrat Paul Schulte ran a tough campaign. (Profiled in this UtahPolicy story.)

But in the end Dunnigan was elected to his 7th term.

For years, Democrats have been hoping to pick off the District 54 seat which includes much of liberal Park City. Their hopes were raised this year when Rep. Kraig Powell, R-Heber City, a more moderate Republican, got out of his race early.

But in the end Republican Tim Quinn was able to defeat Rudi Kohler, even though Kohler won handily in the Summit County (Park City) area of the district.

Finally, back in Salt Lake County, Democrats thought they had a shot at District 30 – which has flipped back and forth Republican and Democratic several times recently.

Rep. Fred Cox, R-West Valley, was seen as especially vulnerable, and several local GOP leaders recruited former West Valley City Mayor Mike Winder to challenge Cox. Winder beat Cox in the Salt Lake County GOP convention, and Winder went on to victory Tuesday night against Democrat Frank Bedolla.

Democratic Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams coasted to victory. And with the narrow defeat of GOP countywide Councilman Richard Snelgrove to Catherine Kanter, the Democrats take majority control of the council.

But the successes of Democrats in Salt Lake County pale by the loss of the White House to Republican Donald Trump – who struggled in Utah, but still won the state’s 6 Electoral College votes in what turned out to be a stunning victory of pundit favored Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Clinton won Salt Lake County, 45-31 percent over Trump, a feat President Barack Obama barely achieved back in 2008.

But Trump easily took the state: Trump, 46 percent; Clinton, 28 percent; independent Evan McMullin, 20.4 percent.