clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:


Kelly Atkinson and Ross Anderson will go into a June 25 Democratic primary to see who gets the party's 2nd Congressional District nomination.

Delegates to the party's state convention Saturday also picked Jim Bradley to run against GOP Gov. Mike Leavitt - no surprise there - and ousted Price state House member Tom Matthews.The Democrats' first try at multiple ballots and lowering their convention nomination threshold from 70 percent of the delegate vote to 60 percent didn't do what party leaders hoped for - avoid a hot primary race.

The 2nd District race is the only one where Democrats fear a primary. But changing the rules didn't help. On the first round of ballots, Anderson got 405 votes for 48 percent; Atkinson 442 votes for 52 percent. Sixty percent of the vote is needed to get the nomination. More than 100 delegates then left the convention at Bingham High School, perhaps to catch the tail end of the Utah Jazz game.

The second balloting - not announced until nearly 5 p.m., nine hours after the convention started - was Anderson with 340 votes for 47 percent and Atkinson with 383 votes for 53 percent.

Both men said they would meet with each other and try to hold down the cost of the primary campaign. Republican 2nd District candidates Merrill Cook and R. Todd Neilson both said last week after their GOP state convention that they planned to each spend upward of $250,000 on their primary.

"That is absurd," said Anderson. "I think people are going to get tired of Republicans trying to buy elections," a clear reference to GOP Rep. Enid Greene's current problems. Anderson said he hopes for a number of debates publicized by the media to get his and Atkinson's messages out.

Atkinson said he wasn't disappointed, even though he believed he had a real shot at eliminating Anderson in the convention. "I have been in this race for seven weeks, Ross for more than four months. To find such support, to come out on top (in the delegate vote) in that time is really wonderful." Atkinson hasn't raised much money, but he says that doesn't worry him. "I've been spending all of my time talking to delegates, not raising money. Now we'll see who gets the (financial) support" for the primary.

One of the unintended losers in Saturday's Democratic Convention may be Cook, oddly enough. First, he lost one of his strongest organizers when Shari Holweg left his campaign to become Bradley's lieutenant governor running mate.

Secondly, if Anderson or Atkinson had won the nomination Saturday, there wouldn't be any interesting Democratic primary election June 25 and perhaps some independents or conservative Democrats would have gone into the GOP primary and voted for Cook.

One longtime Democrat was disappointed with how the convention was organized. "We should have known multiple ballots wouldn't work for Democrats, especially with a Jazz game going on. Too many people left," he griped as he walked out about 5 p.m.

Atkinson needed only to pick up 35 or so votes in the second round of balloting to eliminate Anderson. But, said one Democratic Party leader, Anderson's delegates seemed more committed, and a number of Atkinson voters left after the first round of balloting. Atkinson provided free hot dogs to delegates to keep them around after lunch for the second round of voting; Anderson gave out free hamburgers and drinks. But 124 2nd District delegates who voted in the first round still left before the second round of voting.

About the only thing unexpected Saturday was that two-term state Rep. Matthews lost an intraparty challenge to Brad King, a student recruitment official with the College of Eastern Utah who was making his first attempt at politics.

Matthews, an employee of Southern Pacific Railroad, said he has been working so much that he did not have a chance to talk with the delegates.

Matthews garnered only 32 percent of the delegate votes; he needed 41 percent to get into a primary. Matthews, a member of the Legislature's Cowboy Caucus known for championing rural causes, has held the District 69 seat in Carbon and Emery counties since 1992.

Matthews defeated Democratic Rep. John Garr, who had been appointed to the seat in 1991 when Rep. Mike Dmitrich, D-Price, was appointed to the Senate. Even a nomination speech by Dmitrich was not enough for Matthews to survive the convention and force at least a primary.

King, a former elementary school teacher, faces no Republican opponent in the staunchly Democratic district. In fact, no Republican has held the seat in more than 50 years.

Aside from the typical Democratic promises of victory, party chairman Mike Zuhl used the convention pulpit to chastise the "stubborn refusal" of many Democrats to admit the mistakes that have contributed to them being the minority party in Utah.

The smiles of party conventions, he said, have been too often replaced by tears on election night. And Democrats must shoulder part of that blame.

First, he said, "the public misperceives the priorities and concerns" of the party because Republicans have turned Democratic assets - diversity of groups and ideas - against them. And second, Democrats have "aided and abetted" Republican opponents by exaggerating differences within the party and by requiring litmus tests that "blind us from our common goals."

"There is no feud quite as bitter as a family feud," Zuhl said.

Zuhl's message was yet another in a series of speeches by county and state Democratic Party leaders trying to unify an otherwise weak political party that has seen a steady increase in intraparty bickering while the number of seats held by Democrats has steadily dwindled.

All unopposed Democratic candidates were routinely nominated: Rep. Bill Orton in the 3rd Congressional District; Greg Sanders in the 1st District; Attorney General Jan Graham; D'Arcy Dixon Pignanelli for state treasurer; and Karen Truman for state auditor.