Retiring state Sen. Jim Dabakis rarely won much in the heavily Republican Legislature as a loud, funny but in-your-face spokesman for liberals. But the candidate he endorsed to replace him claimed victory in Tuesday’s primary.
Salt Lake City Council member Derek Kitchen — endorsed by Dabakis — led pediatrician Jen Plumb 53 percent to 47 in unofficial results Tuesday, a spread of 511 votes.
Late-arriving by-mail ballots are still to be counted. But he claimed victory in a speech to supporters, declaring that “spread is pretty safe.”
Plumb, however, said, “I’m certainly not at this point conceding.... I would love to see the final results.”
Kitchen said Dabakis’ endorsement helped him, but he wanted to make it clear that he would forge his own path in office.
“We come from the same corner of politics, but I am a different person. I will bring my own style and qualities. I have a lot to learn from Jim, but I will not be a replica of him.”
Dabakis is the only openly gay member of the Utah Legislature. Kitchen is also gay, and it is his name on the lawsuit — Kitchen v. Herbert — that legalized gay marriage in Utah.
After recent state-city fights over the giant inland port trade hub in northwest Salt Lake City, Kitchen said, “I think voters are looking for someone who can effectively advocate [in the Legislature] for the needs of the city.” He added that he is seen not only as an experienced policymaker but “someone who consistently has been an effective advocate for the underdog.”
Plumb said voters supported her because “I can get in there as a pediatrician to get folks who don’t typically listen to Democrats to listen” and pass her legislation.
“They see me as someone who’s interested in saving lives and improving the quality of life for all of us. That’s why I’ve resonated with people.”
Another close race in a solidly Democratic district was in a four-way primary on the west side of Salt Lake City to replace longtime state Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck.
Jen Dailey-Provost, who was endorsed by Chavez-Houck, led with 35 percent to 33 percent by Igor Limanski, 18 percent by Jacquelyn Orton and 13 percent by Darin Mann.
Dailey-Provost, who has lobbied for years as executive director of the Utah Academy of Family Physicians, said “people are really exited to hear about my experience on Capitol Hill…. I can give them [Democrats] a glimmer of hope with examples of success we have had.”
Limansky, whose mother was an Egyptian refugee and his father is from France, said, “I’ve spent a lot of time talking about families who are separated in Utah, and folks who’ve been raided by ICE agents and people who have been deported.”
As a former state director for Barack Obama and a grassroots organizer for the United Way, he said, “I think folks realize that if something is going to change, it’s going to change by us leading from the ground up and making our voices heard.”
Four incumbents facing primaries on Tuesday all cruised toward easy victories.
Sen. Brian Zehnder, R-Holladay, led Jaren Davis by 62 percent to 38. Davis had questioned whether Zehnder is true to Republican principles, because studies show Zehnder voted more often with Democrats in party-line votes this year than with Republicans.
Zehnder, a physician seeking his first full term after being appointed last year, campaigned saying he works with people in both parties to find solutions. That, he said, makes him the Republican most likely to win one of the state’s few true swing districts. Zehnder outraised Davis by more than a 2-1 margin.
Rep. Raymond Ward, R-Bountiful, was leading former Utah Republican Party Vice Chairman Phill Wright, a leader of party ultraconservatives, by 67 percent to 33 percent.
Rep. Christine Watkins was leading Carbon County Commissioner Jae Potter 64 to 33 percent.
And Rep. Brad Last, R-St. George, led Mark S. Borowiak 75 to 25 percent.
In Davis County’s three-way House District 20 race, Melissa Ballard won with 42 percent of the vote to 37 percent for Matt Jensen and 21 percent for Glen Jennings. The seat has been held by retiring Rep. Becky Edwards, R-North Salt Lake.
Two GOP House primaries in Utah County were essentially like general elections on Tuesday, because the winners will now face only minor party candidates. No Democrats filed in their races.
They include House District 57 where Rep. Brian Greene, R-Pleasant Grove, is retiring. Jon Hawkins appeared to beat Alexander Carter, leading 58 percent to 42.
The other is House District 61 where Rep. Keith Grover, R-Provo, left after being appointed to the state Senate. Marsha Judkins also appeared to win, leading Parl Johnson by a 61-39 percent margin.
Also in Utah County, in House District 27, Brady Brammer appeared to beat Jared Carmen, leading 58-42 percent in a race for the nomination to replace Rep. Mike Kennedy, R-Alpine, who is running for the U.S. Senate.
Democratic and Republican primaries were held Tuesday in the Senate District 26 race to replace retiring Sen. Kevin Van Tassell, R-Vernal.
On the Democratic side, Eileen Gallagher appeared headed to victory over Pat Vaughn by 62-38 percent. The three-way GOP primary was closer: Brian Gorum had 39 percent; Ronald Winterton, 34 percent; and Jack Rubin, 27 percent.
In House District 10 in Weber County, lawyer Lorraine Brown appeared to beat Terry Schow, former head of the Utah Veteran’s office, 57-43 percent in a GOP primary to replace retiring Rep. Dixon Pitcher, R-Ogden.
In House District 8, Steve Waldrip was heading to a GOP primary victory over Jason Kyle by a 59-41 percent margin in a race to replace retiring Rep. Gage Froerer, R-Huntsville, who was running for county commission.
In Salt Lake County in Senate District 3, Jeremy Egan beat Marlin Baer by 58 percent to 42 for the GOP nomination to face Sen. Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake City, in another solidly Democratic district.
Tribune reporters Taylor Stevens and Connor Richards contributed to this report.