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History-making transgender U.S. Senate candidate looking to capitalize on Utah primary win

SALT LAKE CITY — The first openly transgender candidate to win a major party U.S. Senate primary election celebrated Tuesday at the campaign offices of another Democrat because she can't afford her own space.

"People were definitely cheering, especially as the news was coming in, and I'd be on TV," said Misty K. Snow. "My face was on the screen and they're like, 'Yay.'"

Snow might be on the screen a lot more in the coming days. Her effort to unseat Republican Sen. Mike Lee on a shoestring budget might pick up some cash-generating national attention now that she's the Democratic nominee.

Her campaign collected more money in the 15 hours since she beat fellow Democrat Jonathan Swinton than in the month before the primary, Snow said Wednesday morning. She spent just over $4,200 on her election.

Snow, a grocery store cashier, didn't make gender identity an issue in the race, but the significance of her victory in the LGBT community isn't lost on her either.

"I never expected it would be me, but I guess the fact that it is, it's great," she said in an interview, one of many locally and nationally on her schedule Wednesday. "A lot of people tell me I could be a role model. A lot of people have reached out to me, told me how much of a difference I'm making just by running."

A progressive Democrat pushing a $15 per hour minimum wage, paid maternity leave and full LGBT equality, Snow faces a daunting task in taking on Lee in heavily Republican Utah.

Snow acknowledges the odds are stacked against her but said the party is better off with a Bernie Sanders-type than the conservative Democrats who mustered only about 30 percent of the vote in past U.S. Senate races in Utah.

Swinton, who fits the mold of those conservative Democrats, said he hopes Snow and Lee will focus on reaching more common ground than on extreme ideology to better represent Utahns and restore productivity to the Senate.

Utah Democratic Party Chairman Peter Corroon said Snow worked hard to get her supporters out to vote, which often makes the difference in a primary election. This year, the Sanders movement galvanized Utah's minority party like never before.

"I think primary elections oftentimes for Democrats, you'll see the more the progressive and active Democrats voting, so I think that certainly worked in her favor," he said. "I think Misty Snow attracted the progressive Bernie Sanders supporters and that also might have been a factor in this primary."

What wasn't a factor, Corroon said, was Snow's gender identity. She talked about issues people care about, he said.

Troy Williams, executive director of the advocacy group Equality Utah, said Snow broke down some "really huge" barriers in winning the primary. The LGBT community is ready to serve in public office, he said.

"You're going to be seeing more candidates from our community stepping forward and running and winning races," Williams said.

"It's just a wonderful opportunity for the broader community to get to know a transgender individual. A lot of people in our state know gays and lesbians, but don't know that they know a transgender person," he said

Snow wasn't the only transgender candidate to win a congressional primary Tuesday, and coincidentally not the only one named Misty.

In Colorado, Misty Plowright, a 33-year-old IT worker, won her Democratic primary and will challenge Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., in one of the most conservative districts in the state.

Email: romboy@deseretnews.com

Twitter: dennisromboy