Labor Day is in the rearview mirror and political contestants are sprinting to the election finish line. Most focus has been on national, gubernatorial and congressional races. But throughout the state, candidates are waging neighborhood battles for votes for county and legislative offices. Here is a peek at some of these contests now catching the attention of political observers.
Salt Lake County mayoral contest. Jenny Wilson, elected to the at-large county council seat in 2014 with 53% of the vote, was appointed mayor upon Ben McAdams’ election to Congress. So this popular member of an Utah legacy political family is running for a full term as mayor. She has already achieved countywide electoral success in prior council elections. She’s a smart and articulate politician who understands retail politics and is a consummate fundraiser.
Her opponent, Riverton Mayor Trent Staggs, has launched the most aggressive challenge to an incumbent of this office in decades. He is not solely riding the GOP label, but rather is reaching out to new categories of voters who are frustrated with county bureaucracy or desire a different perspective. Lawn signs have been appearing for months demonstrating that Staggs’ approach is gaining traction.
Campaign experts and political observers are debating whether the presidential race, or the gubernatorial and congressional contests, will have any coattails for either mayoral candidate. The coattail effect will likely be mixed. Clearly, Wilson’s and Staggs’ performance in November will help determine this effect and political trends in Utah’s largest county.
Analyzing legislative contests is a key activity for many political operatives as these low-key races reveal trends, movements and issues that are not always apparent in the major contests. This is especially important in the pandemic-influenced elections.
These hotly-contested local races, especially in swing districts, are truly revealing of undercurrents and forces. Thus, the following legislative elections are being closely watched.
West Salt Lake County. For many years, this geographic region has been classified ”swing” as voters cross the ballot for partisan selections. This dynamic is a major feature in 2020. Key races include:
District 33 — Every two years, Republican Craig Hall defies the numbers of this West Valley Democratic-leaning district. Fatima Dirie is offering a challenge to Hall, who never takes his seat for granted.
District 38 — Incumbent Eric Hutchings is facing Democrat Ashlee Matthews in this Kearns area swing district.
District 22 — Popular incumbent Sue Duckworth is retiring. Her vacancy is fostering a spirited race between Democrat Clare Collard and Republican Anthony Loubet in this Magna and Kearns seat.
District 30 — Republican Mike Winder (a Utah election would not be complete without a Winder on the ballot) is wrestling with Democrat Robert Burch to keep control of his West Valley seat.
District 39 — For years, everything, including the proverbial kitchen sink, was thrown by Democrats and liberal organizations at incumbent Jim Dunnigan — who survived and flourished in his swing district. Lynette Wendel is trying hard to change that in Taylorsville and Kearns.
East Salt Lake County. In Senate District 8, former GOP Sen. Brian Zehnder is seeking the seat Democrat Kathleen Riebe won against him in 2018. This is the top Senate race in the state.
Republicans think they have a shot to win two additional House seats in this area of the county. In District 46, Democratic incumbent Marie Poulson is retiring. Democrats are offering Gay Lynn Bennion to counter Republican Jaren Davis.
In District 44, incumbent Democrat Andrew Stoddard is challenged by Republican Kyle Bird.
Republicans are fighting hard to defend their incumbents in District 49, where Robert Spendlove is opposed by Democrat Siamak Khadjenoury, and District 45, where Steve Eliason is challenged by Democrat Wendy Davis.
Summit and Wasatch counties. District 54 — Incumbent Republican Tim Quinn is retiring, which is a true loss for the state. Many politicos have wondered for years if the infusion of new residents into Park City and surrounding area would change the district political demographics. This will be tested in the race between former Wasatch County Council member Mike Kohler and Democrat Meaghan Miller, from Park City.
Weber County. District 10 — Democrat Lou Shurtliff served for many years in the House and then retired. She returned in 2018. Republicans believe Travis Campbell has a real shot at the seat.
Other races politicos are watching in northern Utah include District 8, where incumbent Steve Waldrip is facing Democrat Oscar Mata, and District 9, where Republican Calvin Mussellman is opposed by Democrat Steve Olsen. In District 11, Republican incumbent Kelly Miles is in an unexpected fight with Democrat Jason Allen.
Republican LaVarr Webb is a political consultant and lobbyist. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Frank Pignanelli is a Salt Lake attorney, lobbyist and political adviser who served as a Democrat in the Utah state Legislature. Email: email@example.com.