Is Utah, politically speaking, becoming two places — Salt Lake County and the rest of the state?
Tuesday's election showed gains for Democrats in Salt Lake County. But outside of the county there were defeats for Democrats in previously held legislative seats and large Republican victories.
"We are now officially the minority party in Salt Lake County," said Todd Weiler, state GOP vice chairman, on Wednesday. "It is a troubling trend, a concern."
Wayne Holland, state Democratic Party chairman, says his three-cycle, six-year plan to "make Salt Lake County more Democratic" is showing signs of success. "It is working, although not as quickly as I'd hoped," Holland said Wednesday, a day after Democrats did well in the state's largest population center.
"We won two (state House) races where the candidates ran for the third time — like we had asked of them. We lost a few who ran for the second time — but we hope to pick those up" in 2010, Holland added.
"We haven't given up on the rest of the state. But we certainly had some losses" outside of the county, Holland said. "We start in Salt Lake County, win more there, and expand, we hope."
Added Weiler: "We are licking our wounds there, where we may be down, but we're not out." For all the money Utah Democrats "threw" at races in Salt Lake County this year, "they have very little to show for it — a wash in the state Senate and two (more) seats in the House — on a statewide basis."
Republicans are still the majority party in the state. And considering the enthusiasm around Barack Obama, "We've weathered this storm very, very well. We'll work hard to reverse our losses" in Salt Lake County, Weiler added.
Tuesday's voting results show:
Inside Salt Lake County Democrats rule (mostly).
• Democratic Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon won a landslide re-election victory, 66-22 percent. Democratic Councilman Randy Horiuchi won countywide re-election, and newcomer Democrat Jani Iwamoto unseated GOP incumbent Councilman Mark Crockett in the eastside Council District 4. That means the County Council is now controlled by Democrats, 5-4.
With Corroon and a new council majority, Democrats take the helm of county government for the first time in 15 years.
• Democrats made gains in state House and Senate seats in the county. They picked up three House seats and a key Senate seat, all on the county's east side. There are now 19 House Democrats from the county, compared to just 11 GOP representatives. And Democrats control the county's state Senate seats, 8-4.
• U.S. Rep. Jim Matheson's 2nd Congressional District, by population, is mostly in Salt Lake County. And the popular conservative Democrat took an impressive 71 percent of the vote in the county. (Matheson beat Republican Bill Dew, 63-35 percent, in the whole 2nd District, which includes counties to the east, south and southwest, including Washington and Iron counties.)
• Democratic president-elect Obama nearly won in Salt Lake County. Obama lost to Republican John McCain, 47.87 percent to 48.93 percent in the county, or just an 1,883 vote difference out of more than 325,000 cast, complete but unofficial results show.
• Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker is a Democrat (elected easily in 2007). There are no Republican legislators in Salt Lake City at all.
• Democrats now control the state House and Senate seats down Matheson's 2nd District eastside suburbs and cities, from Salt Lake City in the north down to Draper in the south.
The rest of the state, Republicans dominate (with few exceptions).
• Republicans won a House and Senate seat Tuesday that were held by retiring Democrats — they took Rep. Lou Shurtliff's Ogden seat and Sen. Mike Dmitrich's southeastern Senate seat.
• Democrats now hold only three state House seats outside of Salt Lake County — and in areas that historically were strongly Democratic but are now seeing party influence waning — Tooele and Carbon counties, and Ogden.
Rep. Neil Hansen, D-Ogden, after Tuesday is the only House Democrat north of Salt Lake City. Newly elected Democrat Christine Watkins, of Price, is the only House Democrat south of Draper. Longtime Rep. James Gowans, D-Tooele, is the lone Democratic holdout to the west of Salt Lake County. Democrats just can't seem to win a legislative seat to the east of the county.
• Republicans hold a vise grip on local, partisan offices. They hold control of all local county governments — exceptions are Carbon and Summit counties (and now Salt Lake County), where there is a majority of Democratic incumbents.
• There are 45 state House seats outside of Salt Lake County — Republicans hold 42 of them, Democrats only three.
• There are 17 state Senate seats outside of Salt Lake County — Republicans hold all of them.
• In Utah County, all state House and Senate seats remain in Republican hands. Democrats saw a resurgence of sorts this year in the county — running well-financed, moderate-to-conservative Democratic candidates with good connections to their communities. They all got slaughtered by a Republican wave, losing every race. The Democratic House candidates in the county spent, together, $106,664; the GOP winners spent $227,693 — financially competitive by previous standards, but to no avail.
Many of the Utah County Democratic legislative candidates got beaten by 2-to-1, even 3-to-1, margins. Democrats didn't even run anyone against Senate President John Valentine, R-Orem. Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, who couldn't have gotten much more bad press about his bossy personal conduct, beat his Democratic challenger, 61-39 percent.
• Some thought that former Davis County commissioner Dell Holbrook, a Democrat, well-known in the county, could win a commission seat again. Holbrook was beaten 2-to-1 by Republican John Petroff.