It may seem as though Ben McAdams has been running for Congress against U.S. Rep. Mia Love, but the Democratic Salt Lake County mayor first must clear the field of three challengers within his own party hoping for a spot in the race.
It might also feel as if there’s been an ongoing race between Democratic Salt Lake County Councilwoman Jenny Wilson and Republican Mitt Romney, but Wilson must beat three fellow Democrats at the party’s state convention on Saturday or in a primary: Larry Livingston of Bountiful, Mitchell Vice of Salt Lake City and Jeff Dransfield of Logan.
Democrats will meet at the Salt Palace and decide if they’ll send McAdams and Wilson off to the races or give them another stop on the way, as hundreds of party delegates make their top picks in what will be the state’s biggest elections come November.
U.S. Senate: Republicans gave Romney his own primary challenge at their convention last weekend, setting up a June 26 showdown with state Rep. Mike Kennedy.
On the Democratic side, Wilson, a two-term councilmember, has pushed ethics reforms and open-space preservation. Wilson also championed the drive to extend health benefits to LGBT employees’ families.
Mitchell Vice is a self-described progressive who, on his website, said he “is seeking to challenge career politicians and carpet-bagging billionaires.” He views universal health care as a right, advocates passage of the Equal Rights Amendment and says that sexual orientation should be added to the Civil Rights Act.
Larry Livingston is a former IRS agent, former schoolteacher and onetime investment banker who has run for county commissioner and the Legislature multiple times. He says at one time or another he has been a Republican, Democrat and Libertarian and was once vice chairman of the Utah Libertarian Party.
Jeff Dransfield, of Logan, didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
4th Congressional District: All candidates in the race not named Ben McAdams tout credentials as standard-bearers for the more-progressive, non-establishment wing of the party. All three are first-time candidates spurred to run by the same concerns that have prompted a wave of progressive-minded newcomers across the country to enter the political arena on the heels of Donald Trump’s surprise 2016 presidential victory.
Each says the Democratic nominee in the race should run true to party principle, not as a moderate alternative trying to appeal to Republicans estranged from their own party. Two of them started running more than a year ago.
Sheldon Kirkham, 40, a postal service employee from Taylorsville, grew up in southeastern Utah and graduated from the University of Utah with a political science degree. He announced plans to run in February and says he wants to “confront the influence of the donor class inside the Democratic party.”
Kirkham said he’s focused on national policy more than local or state-level affairs and believes someone from the party’s left wing needed to run in the race to “challenge the presumptive nominee.” He said he was “deeply concerned” about McAdams’ chances to unseat Love if he employs the same middle-road strategy that has led to Democratic losses nationally for years.
“There’s a path to victory, and it isn’t working around the margins to try to get a few disaffected Republicans to vote for the Democrats,” he said. The nominee should “take a strong message of reform directly to the unaffiliated electorate to convince them to support the Democrat.”
Darlene McDonald, 50, of Millcreek, is a technology analyst and project lead for Oracle who has lived in the city for 15 years. Originally from Cincinnati, she announced her plans to run a year ago, drawn to the race by Republican animus toward the Affordable Care Act and by her concerns about immigration, education and environmental policy.
As a young mother in her 20s, McDonald lost a young son who had been born with health issues. The family was able to enjoy a better quality of life with him because of her workplace insurance and Medicaid, and the prospect of other families managing similar challenges without a health-care safety net prompted her to run.
“I cannot be silent about this anymore,” she said of her decision. “I’m the progressive candidate in this race. It’s not that we can’t win. We can win if we run a progressive candidate that can tap into our Democratic base.”
Another Millcreek resident, Tom Taylor, 33, is an engineering contractor with a Ph.D. in robotics engineering who filed to run on Tax Day last year — a nod to his concerns about the country’s “wealth inequality crisis.” He sees an “urgent deadline” for dealing with climate change — he wants a carbon tax and subsidies for green-energy technologies — and supports a “Medicare for All” system of health care.
Taylor said Utah Democrats lose elections when they run “so-called moderates”— candidates who embrace liberal positions on some issues, such as climate change and the environment, but conservative positions on others, such as tax and social policy. The district’s voter makeup, he said, favors the right kind of Democrat.
“Democrats for a long time here in this state have tried to run candidates that basically don’t stand up for anything,” Taylor said. “The key here is to make the case to the delegates that not only can a real Democrat win here in this district, but someone who is a real Democrat, that doesn’t shy away from values and boldly proclaims those things, actually has a better shot in the general election than the candidates that we’ve been running for a long time.”
There are two Democrats in each of the remaining districts, all held by Republicans.
1st Congressional District: Kurt Weiland, a business consultant, is running against Lee Castillo, a social worker, for the right to face U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, a Republican serving his eighth term representing the northern Utah district.
2nd Congressional District: What historically had been a toss-up seat long held by both Republicans and Democrats has become safely Republican, held by Rep. Chris Stewart since it was created after redistricting in 2012. Two progressive Democrats are running to unseat Stewart.
Shireen Ghorbani of Salt Lake City and Randy Hopkins of Farmington both said they would support federal land and work to keep it public.
“Many Utahns feel unrepresented,” said Ghorbani, who said she got in the race after continued attacks on the Affordable Care Act by Stewart and other Republicans. “Our representatives are out of touch with our values.”
3rd Congressional District: Two Democrats are hoping to run for the seat held by Rep. John Curtis – who has his own primary battle.
James Singer is a Navajo and Mormon living in West Valley City. Singer had announced a run for the U.S. Senate before backing off, saying he couldn’t contend with Sen. Orrin Hatch’s $3.5 million campaign war chest. Hatch since announced his retirement.
Kent Moon, of Cottonwood Heights, formerly worked in financing for the U.S. Small Business Association. He says, “You simply cannot get further from Utah Values than Donald Trump.”
Three contested, rural legislative races: Six Democrats are looking to run in sweeping, rural districts that each include portions of liberal havens.
Senate District 26, which includes the oil country of northeast Utah plus Park City, has attracted Republicans and Democrats looking to replace outgoing Sen. Kevin Van Tassell, R-Vernal. Democrats Eileen Gallagher, a Park City pediatrician, and Pat Vaughn, who lives in Midway, are running for the spot.
Two Democrats are running for another district that includes rural towns and also Park City. Park City residents Meaghan Miller and Roberto Lopez are hoping delegates pick them on Saturday for House District 54, currently held by Republican Tim Quinn, of Heber.
House District 69, which runs from Duchesne County to Grand County, attracted Democrats Tim Glenn, of Green River, and Danielle Howa Pendergrass, of Price. The seat is held by Republican Rep. Christine Watkins, R-Price, who faces a primary runoff with Carbon County Commissioner Jae Potter.
Clarification: This story has been updated to reflect that Morgan Shepherd, a fifth Democratic candidate for Utah's 4th Congressional District race, has withdrawn from the race.