A large field of candidates decided to take the plunge this year, formally filing for federal, state, school board and county races by Monday night's deadline.
Democrats filled a few large candidate holes in the last week, and now have candidates in all the major races in very-Republican Utah.
Even though Republicans hold five of the top six federal and state offices here, local Democrats feel 2008 may be their year, with retiring President Bush very unpopular and the economy breaking into recession.
"With the Republicans being the party of Merrill Cook, 'Superdell' and Chris Buttars, it feels pretty good to be a Democrat," said Todd Taylor, executive director of the Utah Democratic Party.
Taylor refers to former 2nd Congressional District U.S. Rep. Merrill Cook, who in running his 12th major campaign is trying to win his party's U.S. House nomination again; "Superdell" Dell Schanze, a former computer-store owner who filed for Salt Lake County mayor as a Republican, but then withdrew and filed for governor as a Libertarian Party member; and state Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, who seeks re-election after making what some call a racist remark in the 2008 Legislature, and declined to resign when called to do so by the Utah Chapter of the NAACP.
Democrats filled their last large hole Monday when Bennion Spencer, a Riverton Democrat, filed in the 3rd Congressional District. Spencer ran, and lost, state Senate races in 2000 and 2002. Spencer will face the Republican who wins the district's GOP nomination — now a fight between six-term incumbent Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah; Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.'s former chief of staff Jason Chaffetz; former Juab County attorney David Leavitt; and arch-conservative Joe Ferguson.
One last minute surprise: state Senate Majority Whip Dan Eastman, R-Bountiful, an eight-year veteran, did not file for re-election. Half a dozen Republicans and one Democrat filed in his Senate District 23.
There is no U.S. Senate race in Utah this year. But there are still plenty of top contests that should attract voters.
Stan Lockhart, state GOP party chairman, said Utah is, and will remain, a GOP state. And this year's Republican candidates "from top to bottom are a group of the highest quality."
Lockhart doesn't worry that Democrats are talking about 2008 being their year. "They said the same thing in 2006, but we did very well here." Utahns will continue to chose Republican candidates "because they represent Utah's values and principles."
As reported previously, GOP Gov. Huntsman seeks re-election. He is challenged by Charles Smith of Farmington in the Republican Party and by long-time Democrat Bob Springmeyer (along with Schanze as a Libertarian and Monty "Millionaire" Nafoosi as a Democrat).
U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, is challenged by Democrat Morgan Bowen in the 1st District.
And Democratic U.S. Rep. Jim Matheson faces a number of opponents in the 2nd District. One of Republican Party's hopes is Bill Dew, a well-to-do former homebuilder. But also filing as Republicans are Kenneth Gray of Sandy, Cook of Salt Lake City, and Chris Jacobs of Cedar City.
Salt Lake County has been voting more and more Democratic in recent years — delivering a solid base for Matheson. And in 2008, with the winning of one more County Council seat, Democrats can take control of county government.
Democratic County Mayor Peter Corroon is seen as a popular incumbent, and Republicans had to wait until Monday to find a candidate to oppose him: Michael Renckert, 47, a state parole officer who has not sought public office before.
Republicans, which hold two-thirds majorities in the state House and Senate, in the 2007 Legislature passed a new private school voucher law. Opponents organized and collected enough voter signatures to put the law on last November's ballot, where it was soundly defeated. And a number of races this year appear tainted by that bitter voucher fight.
Jean Hill, a Democrat and the State Office of Education attorney who raised the ire of the Attorney General's Office last summer during the voucher battle, is running against Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, a Republican.
Republican Carmen Snow, a former PTA president and member of the anti-voucher Utahns For Public Schools, is running against Rep. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George, in state Senate District 29. Urquhart is a strong voucher backer.
Democrat Lisa Johnson, spokesperson for Utahns for Public Schools, is running against Rep. Greg Hughes, R-Draper. And Margaret Bird, Trust Lands Specialist of the State Office of Education (which had members who opposed vouchers), is challenging Hughes within the Republican Party.
Chris Williams, Davis School District spokesman and a Republican, challenges Rep. Curtis Oda, R-Clearfield.
"Many Republican legislators have vouchers tattooed on their foreheads" and are so targeted, said Democratic Party chairman Wayne Holland. "The arrogance of the ethically-challenged (GOP legislators) made candidate recruiting much easier this year. Vouchers will be back" and Utahns should look to Democratic candidates to stop them again, Holland said.
One of the Democrats' finds is former GOP House member Dave Hogue of Riverton, who filed for his old House District 52, but this year as a Democrat.
"After 47 years as a Republican, I had to switch," said Hogue, who served as a moderate Republican who had any number fights with GOP leaders. Hogue seeks the seat now held by freshman Rep. Carl Wimmer, R-Herriman.
Finally, Rep. Carl Duckworth, D-Magna, is fighting a serious form of cancer. He was being challenged by several Democrats and Republicans. And Monday evening Duckworth's wife, Susan, also filed for the seat, saying that if Carl couldn't physically run, she would, making sure there is a Duckworth on the ballot.
A count by the Deseret Morning News shows that only one GOP state senator — Sen. President John Valentine, R-Orem — has no Democratic opponent. All other state Senate races this year will have at least one Republican and one Democrat — with several GOP incumbents, including Senate Majority Leader Curt Bramble, R-Provo, being challenged by Republicans and Democrats alike.
Utah County Democrats did a fine job of recruiting, with all other Senate races and most House races in the county having Democratic opponents.
A number of moderate Republicans, who voted against vouchers last year, do not have Democratic challengers. While most GOP lawmakers who did vote for vouchers have Democratic opponents.
Across the state, Democrats didn't file candidates in half a dozen state House races. Republicans found candidates in all state Senate races and all 75 House seats except the Salt Lake district of Rep. Jackie Biskupski, D-Salt Lake.
In 2006 Democrats left 19 House races unfilled — only a handful this year. "We didn't have to beg to get candidates," said Holland, "and many GOP-leaning Utahns are looking at us. It's exciting."
Contributing: Leigh Dethman, Lisa Riley Roche, Tiffany Erickson