SD8 could be a battleground in 2018

Both Republicans and Democrats are scrambling to find candidates to fill the seat in SD8 vacated by Republican Brian Shiozawa, who resigned suddenly this week to take a job with the Trump administration.

The Salt Lake County GOP will pick Shiozawa’s replacement for the 2018 session. So far, there are eight candidates who have jumped into the race to replace Shiozawa. They include Jay Brummett, Jaren Davis, Hal Davis, Mark Griffin, Laynee Jones, Brian Zehender, Mike Squires and Jesse Curtis. 

The Salt Lake County GOP delegates will elect a replacement on January 9. Nominations for the slot will be taken from the floor when delegates meet, and candidates can jump into the race as late as that evening.

A special election in 2018 will determine who gets to finish the final two years of Shiozawa’s term. 

SD8 is a prime pickup target for Utah Democrats in that election, but it’s far from a slam dunk for Utah’s minority party.

Kathie Allen, fresh off her loss in the 3rd CD special election, has already thrown her hat in the ring in SD8. While she certainly would have a lot of name ID because of her run in 2017, she also is facing an uphill battle because of an ill-advised tweet she posted following her loss to John Curtis blaming Mormons and Republicans for her defeat. She has since apologized and deleted the social media post, but as one prominent Democrat told me, “You can’t unring that bell.”

Because of Allen’s baggage, some Democrats are desperate to find another candidate to get in the race and challenge her for the nomination. Some names I’ve heard bandied about are current Rep. Marie Poulson and former KUED journalist Ken Verdoia. 

Democrats won’t be able just to roll out any candidate to win the seat. Democrats had held that seat just one term since 2001 when Karen Morgan defeated Republican Carlene Walker in 2008. To say that SD8 is a Democratic-leaning seat is disingenuous.

The demographics of SD8 are against Utah Democrats as well. Voter data from L2 Political shows Democrats are in third place in the district for active voters behind independents and Republicans:

  • 47% of the voters in SD8 are not registered to any political party.
  • 35% are registered Republicans
  • 18% are Democrats

Republicans outnumber Democrats by a 2-1 margin in the district.

Simply put, if Democrats are gonna win in 2018, they need to get independent voters on their side. It’s safe to say that those unaffiliated voters have been more than willing to vote for a Republican in the past two elections, pushing Shiozawa to wins in 2012 and 2016.