Ahh, the vagaries of legislative races in Utah.
A week ago veteran Democratic legislator Sen. Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake, who has been in the Legislature since Mosses wore short pants, was facing the strongest intra-party challenge of his 28-year career.
Democratic heavy-hitter Pat Shea – his party’s nominee for the U.S. Senate, who also ran for governor – was seriously considering trying to take Davis out.
But Shea backed off.
And when the Thursday 5 p.m. candidate filing deadline for the 2014 races passed, no one – I repeat, no one – filed against Davis in the state Senate District 3 race.
So, Davis can raise a few thousand dollars from special interests – as he and many incumbents do election after election – and sit back and take it easy this year.
No GOP candidate in the Senate 3 is a real missed opportunity for Utah Republicans – for it is more Republican after the 2011 redistricting.
(You can see all the federal and state candidates on the Utah Elections Office web site here.)
Another “lucky” Democrat is Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, D-Holladay.
Two years ago she was challenged by Anne-Marie Lampropoulos, the wife of Republican stalwart Fred Lampropoulos – who had the personal cash and fund-raising ability to make the 2012 House District 37 one of the most expensive House races of all time.
A.-M. Lampropoulos did not re-up for another shot at Moss, who still faces Republican Ron Hilton.
With no U.S Senate or governor’s race this year, the 2014 elections are running a bit under the radar so far.
And certainly there has not been the enthusiasm seen either in the media or the general public as in years past.
Maybe we’re all still overdosed from the big races of 2012 – which included Utah’s favorite son Mitt Romney being the Republican presidential nominee.
Utah hasn’t been that close to real stardom since Donnie and Marie or Robert Redford.
Still, for the political junkies who regularly read UtahPolicy, let me flesh out some of the more interesting races I see at first glance Thursday evening.
(Many of the legislative challengers I know little or nothing about, as of now. But it’s my job to sound like I know what I’m talking about, so here goes. . . .)
One of the more interesting House races takes place off the Wasatch Front.
Christine Watkins, who in 2012 was a member of House Democratic leadership, lost her re-election to GOP newcomer Jerry Anderson down in the Carbon County-based District 69.
True, more Republicans were put into the district in redistricting – but Watkins actually never complained during the GOP-controlled re-drawing, telling me that Republicans didn’t do to badly by her.
Right after her defeat, Watkins very publically announced she was switching parties, and would take on Anderson this year.
Well, Watkins did file as a Republican in 69.
But guess what? So did former House 69 incumbent Brad King – who is also a former member of House Democratic leadership.
Watkins will have to get at least 40 percent of the GOP delegates to avoid being eliminated by Anderson in the spring state Republican convention.
No other Democrat filed in 69. So if Watkins can survive, the final match-up will be between two former House minority members of leadership – one now a Republican. Curiouser and curiouser.
Freshman Rep. Dana Layton, R-Orem – as expected – is being challenged by fellow Republican Brad Daw.
And, boy, is she in for a fight.
The investigation into former AG John Swallow by the Utah House showed that Swallow and his 2012 campaign consultant Jason Powers, underhandedly raised around $425,000 from Utah pay-day lenders, some of the money used by Powers to defeat Daw.
Powers’ PAC gave aid to Layton – both above the table and in sneaky, dirty anonymous campaign mailers.
Layton spent much of last year claiming she didn’t know Powers or what he was really up to.
(Daw had the gall to introduce bills aimed at curtailing the predatory lending of local payday lenders.)
But now armed with the scathing special House investigation report, count on Daw to blast Layton until the cows come home.
County and state Democratic party leaders did OK this year in candidate recruitment in House races – 13 of the 75 House seats did not have Democrats file.
So the incumbent Republicans, or in the case of an open seat being vacated by a GOP representative, have a free shot in the general election.
Only one Democratic incumbent, Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake, does not have a Republican challenger.
As noted above, Democrat Davis in the Senate doesn’t have a Republican challenger.
The only Senate race this year without a Democrat is down in southern Utah.
Sen. Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, doesn’t have a Democratic opponent in Senate District 28.
However, former GOP senator Casey Anderson filed against Vickers. It was Vickers who took out Anderson two years ago after redistricting, and Vickers has to run again after only two years to even out the Senate races – 15 one year, 14 the next.
So Anderson is seeking intra-party political revenge.
Sen. Pat Jones, D-Holladay, is retiring in Senate District 4. And two former Democratic officeholders – Sen. Ross Romero and Salt Lake County Councilwoman Jani Iwamoto, square off in that eastside district, which some believe is vulnerable to Republicans.
And perhaps under the title “We Hope For An Upset,” there are three Republicans challenging Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake, in the very Democratic Salt Lake City District 2 seat.
Dabakis is also the Utah State Democratic Party chairman and the only openly gay state legislator. He married his long-time partner during the two-week same-sex marriage window created last December when a Utah federal judge ruled Utah’s anti-gay marriage constitutional provision invalid.
So look for a lot of GOP talk in the Senate 2 that Dabakis doesn’t represent “Utah traditional values.”
Democrats are at an historic low in the Utah Senate – just five members out of 29.
They are within two seats of an historic low in the Utah House, just 17 members out of 75.
There are no easy pick-ups for the Democrats – although one or two upsets I suppose are possible.
If Democrats lose Jones’ Holladay seat, there could be just four Democrats in the Senate – and each one of them would be a member of minority leadership.
They really could hold a Democratic Senate caucus meeting in one of the larger Capitol restrooms.
Stay tuned to UtahPolicy for any number of legislative race analysis stories over the next seven months.
The fun in the legislative races is just beginning.
Finally, some believed that freshman U.S. Rep. Chris Stewart in the redrawn Utah Congressional District 2 would have a significant challenger from inside the Republican Party.
While Republicans Larry Meyers, Zachary Hartman and Vaughn Hatton all filed against Stewart, it is not the heavy-hitter GOP field Stewart faced in 2012.
U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop also has one Republican opponent in his 1st District.
And GOP-frontrunner Mia Love picked up Thursday another Republican challenger (making two) in her 4th District bid.
Even the darling of the Utah right – U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, has two GOP challengers.
So the state GOP convention this spring should have some highlights – if only briefly.
As reported previously, the 2014 races will be last where all party candidates must go before their convention delegates for votes.
Because of the Count My Vote/SB54 “grand compromise” in the 2014 Legislature, come 2016 there will be an alternative route to party primaries: Candidates can chose the traditional caucus/delegate/convention route, or they can gather a set number of voter signatures and go directly to their party’s primary ballot.