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No love for Obama in rural Utah

Published November 27, 2012 8:15 am

Final tally • According to vote totals, in eight counties the president scored less than 10%.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

In Utah, support for President Barack Obama ran the gamut from ice cold to tepid — but nowhere in the state was more chilly toward the president than rural Rich County, where land use worries and religious loyalties drove Mitt Romney to his largest margin.

Obama received just 83 votes — a total of 8.2 percent of the vote — in the sparsely populated county at the north end of Utah.

Bobbie Coray, who ran for Congress as a Democrat in 1994 and lives in Rich County, said it's a conservative, Republican and overwhelmingly Mormon county, all of which play to Romney's advantage. She said voters also liked that he had ties to the state.

"Everyone was proud of Mitt Romney and his connection to Utah, especially northern Utah with the Olympics. He was almost a native son," she said.

Rich County Commissioner Norman Weston, who, as a third-generation Democrat is himself a bit of a rarity, said he thinks land-use concerns also drove voters away from Obama.

"I think Rich County has a lot more confidence in Mitt Romney, as far as being able to support multiple use on public lands. I think that's a big-ticket item in Rich County," he said. "And [Romney] is wanting to hold the line on taxes, and we're pretty conservative on how much taxes they like to pay."

Weston said in the past few years, U.S. Forest Service officials have been pressured by environmentalists to push ranchers off the allotments of federal land, a move that jeopardizes their livelihood.

"We just have people who are worried where their next meal is going to come from," said Weston, who estimates that about 70 percent of the county is federally owned.

In fact, across seven rural Utah counties — Rich, Millard, Uintah, Morgan, Duchesne, Sevier and Piute — Obama managed to get less than 10 percent of the vote, according to statewide election results that were certified Monday. The only urban county giving the president under 10 percent was Utah County, the state's second largest.

Romney received a total of 72.7 percent of the votes cast, the fourth-largest margin of victory in state history. Romney won every county in Utah, including the three — Salt Lake, Summit and Grand counties — that Obama won in 2008.

As bad as the Utah counties were for Obama, they can't compete with King County, Texas, which according to CNN was the worst showing in the country for the president. He won just five votes, or 3.47 percent of the ballots.

Utah experienced the biggest shift toward Romney than any other state — running 20 points more Republican than in 2008 — according to an analysis on The New York Times' FiveThirtyEight blog.

Summit County, which includes the heavily Democratic bastion of Park City — where Vice President Joe Biden and First Lady Michelle Obama visited during the campaign — gave Obama his strongest showing in the state.

But the 46 percent he garnered in the county was still 10 percent lower than his vote total in 2008.

"It's a very heavily Democratic county," said Henry Glasheen, the Summit County Republican Party Chairman. I think what was going on in Summit County was different than what was going on in the rest of the state."

He said he thought a lot of Democrats in the county turned out for two down-ticket races — the congressional race with Democrat Donna McAleer facing Rep. Rob Bishop, and the state legislative race.

"It didn't feel to me that there was a lot of support for Obama," said Glasheen. But when Romney made the race close, Democratic loyalists dug in their heels and turned out to vote. "The Romney race didn't really help us."

Grand County was the only other county in Utah where Romney didn't beat Obama by double-digits — Romney won 51 percent to 44 percent there.

gehrke@sltrib.com

Twitter: @RobertGehrke