Tuesday's low voter turnout was no real surprise to anyone. What was surprising, however, was how that low turnout will change the face of the Utah House of Representatives.
Popular Republican lawmaker Nancy Lyon was soundly defeated by challenger Charles "Ted" Bradford, and GOP incumbents Rep. Russ Cannon, Sandy, and Rep. Clark Reber, South Jordan - both noted conservatives - were ousted by Republican moderates.Also surprising was incumbent Jack Arrington, D-Ogden, defeating challenger Betty Sawyer in a race few expected him to win, at least not by a 64 percent to 30 percent margin.
"There were surprises, a lot more on the Republican side than the Democrats," said Democratic Party chairman Dave Jones, also a state representative from Salt Lake City. "When the numbers (of voters) are this small, it turns on who has the bigger family."
Rep. Steve Barth, D-Salt Lake, an easy primary winner over conservative challenger Randy Thad Nielsen in the District 26 race, was more disturbed by the low turnout. "It (the turnout) was pitiful. I have a hard time with people who complain but who don't participate in the process," Barth said.
In Barth's district, only 608 voters cast ballots out of 9,000 registered voters. Barth will face Republican Gregory Nance, who defeated David Hittle in the Republican primary.
Perhaps the evening's biggest surprise was Bradford's defeat of Lyon in the District 20 race in Bountiful - a result that sent shock waves through the Democratic Party as well.
"Nancy is one of the finest legislators up there," Jones said, "and I am sorry to see it happen. It is a blow against moderation. Nancy was a moderate and a good Republican, one we could form moderate coalitions with. (Her defeat) will make it tougher to get things done."
The race was one of the nastiest primaries anywhere in the state. "He got more people out to the polls, and that was the bottom line," a dejected Lyon said late Tuesday.
But if Lyon's defeat was a blow against political moderation, two staunchly conservative incumbents found themselves on the losing end of primaries. On the southwest side of Salt Lake County, Lloyd Frandsen, a former lawmaker and well-respected moderate, is back in the running after beating incumbent Reber. Frandsen is expected to keep District 50, a GOP stronghold, in Republican hands.
And in Sandy, Cannon, who garnered a reputation as one of the most conservative lawmakers on Capitol Hill, was ousted by a political unknown. Cannon credited the Utah Education Association for his defeat, saying "The teachers union targeted me because of my anti-tax stand."
Cannon was elected two years ago when he beat long-term Republican incumbent Richard Bradford, also in the Republican primary.
Although Republicans tend to kick out their own in District 49, they won't lose that seat. The GOP primary winner, Greg Curtis, a 33-year-old attorney and political novice, is expected to defeat his Libertarian challenger in November.
In a sign the times are changing, the House could see its first Hispanic woman lawmaker in almost a decade. Loretta Baca, who has never run for political office before, defeated Glen Haner in the race for the District 27 seat representing South Salt Lake. Baca and Haner defeated incumbent Democrat Ronald Greensides in the Salt Lake County convention, and Democrats are comfortable the seat will stay in Democratic hands.
"I won because I understand the people in my district," she said. "I was already working the issues before I started the campaign." She intends to continue campaigning on the issues of affordable housing, education and victims rights. Baca will face Republican Joseph Toronto and Libertarian Dee Wolfe in the general election.
In Ogden, Arrington credited hard work and knocking on doors for his surprisingly easy primary victory. "I expected to win, but I was surprised by the margin," said Arrington, who had been criticized for racial insensitivity. His challenger is the director of the state's Black Affairs Office.
While voter turnout along the Wasatch Front hovered around 10 percent and political gurus bemoaned the fact there were no marquee races to draw voters to the polls, folks in southern Utah were turning out in comparatively huge numbers.
For example, in the House District 73 Republican primary pitting Garfield County Commissioner Tom Hatch against Wayne High School teacher Kay Peterson, Hatch won the race with 54 percent of the vote. In that primary, more than 4,650 votes were cast - a 46 percent turnout. Some 900 voters went to the polls to cast ballots for candidates from other political parties, making the total turnout more than 55 percent.
Because of minor-party challengers or no general election opponents, primaries effectively determined who will represent three House districts. In Sandy's District 49, Curtis faces only a Libertarian opponent.
In District 73, covering Piute, Wayne, Kane, Garfield and portions of Sevier, Beaver and Washington counties, Hatch faces American Party candidate Norman Gubler. In District 55, covering Daggett and Uintah counties, Republican Jack Seitz faces no opponent in November.
Despite the loss of three incumbents, House Republican leaders don't expect the primary to hurt the GOP's domination of the House. "Primary elections are always difficult and divisive in the party," House Majority Leader Marty Stephens, R-Farr West, said. "It will take some time to heal the wounds, but I think we will still be united. I feel comfortable heading into the final elections."
Without specifying which districts Republicans expect to steal away from Democrats, Stephens said he expects the party to pick up two or three more seats. That would give Republicans more than a two-thirds majority, allowing it to cut off debate and set aside procedural rules.
And, as usual, party leaders are rallying around the winners. "I feel real good about the results," Jones said. "Our candidates are some of the finest we've ever put out."