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Legislature may get less experienced

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The Utah Legislature got a little less experienced Tuesday, as three of six incumbents were voted out of office.

The half-dozen incumbent legislators entered Tuesday's primaries facing stiff challenges from within their party, and three of those were in primary races that essentially amounted to final elections because of the lack of a Democratic challenger. Additionally, Salt Lake Democrats chose a challenger for Sen. James Evans, while Republicans picked nominees in four House districts vacated by their current representatives.

Current Senate Budget Chairman Leonard Blackham, R-Moroni had a less than a one percent lead over challenger Darin Peterson, a two-term state representative from Nephi. Peterson has been highly critical of tax increases supported by Blackham, while the incumbent senator has touted his experience and support of major property tax cuts when the budget allowed.

"It's basically a race between Sanpete and Juab counties," Blackham said. "All of the other counties are pretty even."

Davis and Salt Lake County voters have seen two House races — seats currently held by Rep. Dana Love, R-Syracuse, and Rep. David Hogue, R-Riverton — become the center of special interest battles that also turned the tone of the final days of campaigning negative. In both races, there are no Democratic challengers.

That means challenger Paul Ray will likely return to the House after a two-year absence. He beat Love by a 12 percent margin, 56 percent to 44 percent.

Love and Ray, who served as a representative from 2000 to 2002, were the center of major pushes by banks and credit unions. Throughout the weekend, potential voters received mailings criticizing Love's support of banks or Ray's support of credit unions in the ongoing fight between the two groups. Both candidates have also previously been the subject of complaints filed with the state elections office in the past week, although neither has been disciplined.

The remaining challenger is Constitution Party candidate Kevin Oliver.

Hogue, who has consistently opposed tuition tax credits, was the focus of a letter from state senators similar to a pre-convention letter that criticized his "liberal" voting record. He also was the target of mailers from the Parents for Choice in Education political action committee which described him as "too liberal for too long."

The message did not ring with voters in southwest Salt Lake County, as Hogue soundly defeated George Holling with 58 percent of the tally and will now face two candidates in the general election, Arden White of the Constitution Party and Libertarian Matthew Lund.

Rep. Curt Webb, who has served one year after replacing Brent Parker in the House in 2003, won a tight race with former Cache County Attorney Scott Wyatt, 51-49 percent. Another Cache Republican incumbent, four-term representative Craig Buttars, defeated challenger Robert Stewart, 64-36 percent.

In Salt Lake, a very small number of Democrats turned out to decide whether former representative Fred Fife or probation officer Pasa Tukuafu will challenge Sen. James Evans, R-Salt Lake, to represent the typically Democrat west-side Salt Lake district. Fife held a slight lead with nearly all precincts reporting at press time.

Other races being decided were in Senate District 19, where Republicans are trying to maintain control of the tri-county seat being vacated by Sen. David Gladwell, R-Odgen. In that race, North Odgen dentist Allen Christensen had a slight lead over Huntsville realtor Gage Froerer.

The Republican nominee to replace retiring Rep. Don Bush, R-Clearfield, will be Curtis Oda, who had more than a 20 percent lead with almost all of the precincts reporting. Oda will now face three other candidates in the general election.

Very few precincts had reported in Utah County as of press time, where incumbent Rep. Mike Thompson, R-Orem, had a difficult challenge from attorney Lorie Fowlke in District 59. In District 60, Calvin Harper and Brad Daw were vying to replace retiring Rep. Katherine Bryson.

E-mail: jloftin@desnews.com