Two Legislative Races Worth Watching Heading Into Election Day

There’s a sleeper Utah House race this year that’s causing some GOP leaders heartburn as Election Day nears next Tuesday.

And Democrats hope to retake a traditionally rural coal-mining seat, as well.

House District 43 in West Jordan should be safely in Republican hands.

But Diane Lewis and her labor union friends have different ideas.

Rep. Earl Tanner, R-West Jordan, coasted to victory two years ago over challenger Democrat Jeff Bell, 60-40 percent.

But Tanner, a freshman looking for his first re-election, has not been fund raising much this year – nor, if some sources can be believed – working very hard.

Lewis, on the other hand, has.

The business manager/secretary-treasurer of Laborer’s Local 295, Lewis started fund raising back in 2013, raising $2,387 before the New Year.

And she hasn’t stopped.

The latest filings with the Utah Elections Office show she has raised $49,258 so far, with a week to go.

She’s spent $47,237.

Tanner, meanwhile, rolled over $7,366 from his 2012 race, but has raised only $14,329 this year – a total of $21,695.

And as of that total, with only 12 days to go in the election, Tanner has spent only $6,785.

What he’s saving his money for is unclear.

By some accounts, upwards of 30 percent to 40 percent of Utahns will vote early this year, meaning money (and campaign advertising) not spent in the final month of the campaign is not reaching those voters.

Anyway, Lewis is organized and running hard.

And she’s looked to her labor union friends for the lion’s share of her campaign cash.

It used to be that Utah Democratic candidates relied heavily on local union PACs.

That has changed much in the last 15 to 20 years, with many legislative Democrats asking individuals and progressive-minded businesses for money.

Lewis is doing it the old fashion way.

Of her nearly $50,000 in campaign cash, she has raised nearly $33,000, or two-thirds, from local – even national – labor unions.

She’s gotten donations from the national EMILY’s List (Early Money Is Like Yeast, it raises dough), a women’s advocacy group.

And her labor union list is as long as your arm, including local unions and national, Washington, D.C., labor PACs.

GOP leaders, sources say, have gotten on the Tanner bandwagon recently.

He’s gotten $1,000 donations from House Majority Leader Brad Dee, R-Washington Terrace, who is running for speaker and will need Tanner’s vote, and from House Assistant Majority Whip Don Ipson, R-St. George, who is running for majority leader.

The state Republican Party has also donated to Tanner’s campaign.

Tanner beat Bell by 2,300 votes two years ago. And West Jordan hasn’t sent a Democrat to the Utah House in years and years.

But GOP sources tell me leaders are worried about Tanner.

Meanwhile, Democrats are hopeful that former House Democratic leader Brad King can retake a Carbon-County-based House set long held by the minority party.

The GOP-controlled Legislature redrew the District 69 lines three years ago to endanger the historically Democratic seat.

It’s home is still Carbon County – in the past a labor union/coal miner stronghold. But 69 now reaches out into the Uintah Basin, as sell.

Two years ago, Rep. Christine Watkins, D-Price, a teacher, was upset by Rep. Jerry Anderson, R-Price, a retired teacher.

Anderson’s victory was a bit of a fluke, driven by the GOP wave, led by Mitt Romney on the ticket, that washed over parts of Utah.

Clearly not well liked, Anderson received only one delegate vote in the state GOP convention last spring.

Watkins switched parties right after her defeat. But it didn’t help her.

Like Anderson, she was defeated in the state convention by the Roosevelt car dealer.

King, tapping into resources culled while he was in the House, has raised $23,795, spent $20,313.

Labrum is counting heavily on Republican Party, both county and state, for his cash. He’s raised $46,648 and spent $26,505.

Anderson snuck up on Watkins two years ago.

Giving her new GOP areas along with the Mitt factor knocked a Democrat out of a seat held by Democrats for decades.

It will be interesting to see if King can recapture District 69 for the Democrats again, or will the Carbon/Emery county areas go the way of other rural House seats in Utah – GOP all the way.