Trump dynamics, plus McMullin, confound legislative election analysis

Democrat Hillary Clinton won six Utah House districts currently held by Republicans in 2016.

So does that mean these districts are vulnerable to a Democratic takeover in 2018?

Election data from Daily Kos Elections found that Clinton won a plurality of the vote in these six House districts during the last election.

  • HD33, held by Rep. Craig Hall, R-West Valley City. Clinton got 44.63% to Donald Trump’s 31.45. Hall won last year with 50.7%. Evan McMullin pulled in just over 16%.
  • HD44 – Rep. Bruce Cutler, R-Murray, narrowly won re-election in 2016 with 50.9%. Clinton bested Trump in this district 40.71 to 33.05%. Evan McMullin had 19%.
  • HD30 – Rep. Mike Winder, R-West Valley City, got 58.7% in 2016. Clinton narrowly beat Trump 38.48 – 33.65%. Independent Evan McMullin captured almost 21% of the vote.
  • HD45 – Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, won with 55.1%. Clinton beat Trump by just 2 points, 37.99 -35.99%. McMullin pulled in just over 19%.
  • HD38 – Rep. Eric Hutchings, R-Kearns, got 55.1% in 2016. Clinton beat Trump in this district 37.41 to 33.31%. McMullin was just over 21%.
  • HD39 – Rep. Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, won re-election last year with 57%. Clinton barely prevailed over Trump 36.62 – 35.54%. McMullin pulled in 21%.

In normal circumstances, those six districts would represent prime pick-up opportunities for Utah Democrats next year if they can find credible candidates to challenge the incumbents. Hillary Clinton’s performance, coupled with the surprising strength of an independent candidate (McMullin), would usually mean a traditional Republican can’t tilt too far to the right, lest they alienate enough voters to put their seats in jeopardy. The Trump voting base in those districts is not sufficient to put the Republican over the top.

However, because of the weird dynamics of Trump and the participation of McMullin in the race, it’s really impossible to draw conclusions about these districts based on the presidential race. Some might argue that because McMullin was running as a non-Trump conservative, perhaps the Trump/McMullin votes should be combined to show the real Republican strength. That would provide a Republican majority in every race except Hall’s, where Republicans would still get a plurality.

But because Trump attracted some blue-collar votes that might go to a Democrat in a legislative race, it’s difficult to use the presidential race numbers to measure the strength of the two parties, or as a bellwether for 2018.


Another potential swing district in 2018 is HD69. Rep. Christine Watkins, R-Price, barely beat Democrat Brad King in 2016 with 51.3%. Watkins, who used to be a member of Democratic leadership in the Utah House, severely underperformed when compared to Donald Trump, who got 66.97%. This suggests if Democrats can find a strong candidate there, they might have a chance of winning back the seat in 2018.

Trump did not win a single House district held by a Democrat in 2016, but he did come close in HD22, held by Susan Duckworth, D-Salt Lake City. Clinton beat Trump in that district by a little more than 2-points, while Evan McMullin grabbed 20%. Duckworth won re-election with 52%.

Surprisingly, Evan McMullin was able to grab victory in one House district last year. He pulled in almost 44% in HD63, which is held by Rep. Dean Sanpei, R-Provo. Sanpei won in 2016 with 79.2%, while Donald Trump got just 31.71.

There are five other Republican House seats where Democrat Hillary Clinton came within 5-percent of Donald Trump’s winning total, but they probably won’t be swing districts in 2018..

  • HD54 – Rep. Tim Quinn, R-Heber City, won with 52.3%. Trump got 41.21% to Clinton’s 39.86%. McMullin was just under 14%.
  • HD49 – Rep. Robert Spendlove, R-Sandy, prevailed with 57.3% in 2016. Trump and Clinton were in a virtual dead heat, with Trump getting 38.74%, while Clinton had 37.68%. McMullin pulled in just under 19%.
  • HD10 – Rep. Dixon Pitcher, R-Ogden, won with 55.3%. Trump and Clinton were within 2-points as Trump had 38.57% to Clinton’s 37%. McMullin had 17.58%.
  • HD43 – Adam Gardiner won this seat with 61.6% in 2016. However he resigned to become the new Salt Lake County Recorder after Gary Ott stepped down. Now, the seat is occupied by Rep. Cheryl Acton, R-West Jordan, who won the contest to replace Gardiner through a coin flip. In 2016 Trump got 37.41% to Clinton’s 32.5%. McMullin pulled in 23.29%.
  • HD4 – Rep. Edward Redd, R-Logan, was unopposed in 2016 for his re-election bid. Trump got 33.77% to Clinton’s 30.29. McMullin scored 28.91%.

The best Utah House districts for Donald Trump in 2016:

  • HD55 – Rep. Scott Chew, R-Jensen won with 89.2%. Trump got 77.3% while Clinton pulled in just 7.5%.
  • HD70 – Rep. Carl Albrecht, R-Richfield, received 78.4% in 2016. Trump got 71.9% to Clinton’s 14.64%.
  • HD62 – Rep. Jon Stanard, R-St. George, was unopposed in 2016. Trump received 71.08% to Clinton’s 13.61%.
  • HD71 – Rep. Brad Last, R-Hurricane, ran away with 81.6% in 2016. Trump got 69.24% to Clinton’s 14.76.
  • HD75 – Rep. Walt Brooks, R-St. George, was unopposed in 2016. Trump won the district with 68.95% to Clinton’s 15.58%.
  • HD74 – Rep. Lowry Snow, R-St. George, did not have an opponent in 2016. Trump won there with 66.98% to Clinton’s 20.14%.

Aside from the district he won, independent presidential candidate Evan McMullin was able to pull in about 1/3 of the vote in 13 other districts:

  • HD64 – Rep. Norm Thurston, R-Provo, was unopposed. McMullin got 34.04% of the vote, while Trump got 38.7%.
  • HD18 – Rep. Tim Hawkes, R-Centerville, did not have an opponent in 2016. McMullin got 32.77% while Trump got 43.66%.
  • HD61 – Rep. Keith Grover, R-Provo, ran unopposed in 2016. McMullin got 31.99% to Trump’s 43.41%.
  • HD17 – Rep. Stewart Barlow, R-Fruit Heights, won easily with 72.7%. McMullin got 31.89% while Trump pulled in 44.09%.
  • HD6 – Rep. Cory Maloy, R-Lehi, won with 78.2%. McMullin got 31.83% to Trump’s 48.7%.
  • HD56 – Rep. Kay Christofferson, R-Lehi, did not have an opponent in 2016. McMullin was at 31.61 while Trump got a majority in the district at 51.01%.
  • HD48 – Rep. Keven Stratton, R-Orem, was unopposed in 2016. McMullin had 31.35% while Trump pulled in 49.21%.
  • HD2 – Rep. Jefferson Moss, R-Saratoga Springs, had no opponent in 2016. McMullin got 31.24% there while Trump had 51.57%.
  • HD15 – House Majority Leader Rep. Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, got 80.5% last year. McMullin had 30.71% to Trump’s 49.86%.
  • HD3 – Rep. Val Potter, R-North Logan, did not draw an opponent in 2016. McMullin was at 30.7% while Trump got 48.43%.
  • HD59 – Rep. Val Peterson, R-Orem, handily won in 2016 with 79.5%. McMullin pulled 30.53% to Trump’s 48.16%.
  • HD60 – Rep. Brad Daw, R-Orem, cruised to victory in 2016 with 75.8%. McMullin had 30.36% while Trump got 47.59%.
  • HD19 – Rep. Raymond Ward, R-Bountiful, won last year with 72%. McMullin got 30.33%, and Trump had 40.60%.