You could count the deciding votes on one hand and still have two fingers to spare, that’s how close the 2016 race was between Democrat Suzanne Harrison and incumbent Republican Rep. LaVar Christensen.
The day after the results were final, Harrison, a physician, announced she would run again in 2018, believing this time would be different.
“I took the results [as indicating] that people are ready for someone who is willing to listen to them and focus on the issues that really matter to everyday families,” she said Thursday. “For too long, I think the Legislature has given lip service to issues families care about and not really prioritized them.”
This time she has a new opponent, Brad Bonham, owner of a furniture company, who ran after Christensen decided to take a shot (he missed) at an open Senate seat.
Their race will once again be among the closest in the state when the votes are counted Tuesday.
The district naturally tilts to Republicans, but Harrison has knocked on 30,000 doors in this Sandy and Draper district pitching her message of how good schools plus clean air will equal a strong economy.
Bonham is appealing to the area’s GOP tenancies, selling himself as “the only fiscal conservative” in the race and arguing that limited government equals more opportunity.
Bjorn Jones, the United Utah Party nominee in the district, has been sidelined by health issues, and recently encouraged his supporters to consider supporting Harrison.
Both Bonham and Harrison are well-funded — Bonham donating tens of thousands of dollars to his campaign, bringing his total to $139,000, compared to more than $106,000 for Harrison, a lot for a state House seat — and every indication is that we once again may not know the outcome on election night.
It’s just one of a handful of state legislative races that don’t get a lot of attention, but are worth watching Tuesday as Democrats try to chip away at the Republican supermajorities in both the House and Senate. Here are a few more:
Sen. Brian Zehnder vs. Kathleen Riebe
Zehnder took over the Senate District 8 seat early this year, after Sen. Brian Shiozawa resigned to take a job as regional director for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The Cottonwood Heights and Midvale district, like House District 32, favors Republicans (Shiozawa won twice by 14 points each time), but is very moderate. Zehnder, a physician, has positioned himself in that vein. So has his challenger, Riebe, a 15-year educator who currently represents the area on the state school board and has made improving Utah schools and expanding health care access a cornerstone of her campaign.
Riebe has been outspent by Zehnder more than two-to-one, but has worked hard and made it the most competitive Senate race in the state this year.
Former Rep. LaWanna “Lou” Shurtliff vs. Lorraine Brown
For a decade, Shurtliff, a former teacher, represented her South Ogden district in the Utah House before retiring in 2008. But concern over some of the bills she saw in the Legislature — specifically a plan to spend $45 million re-branding the Utah Transit Authority — brought this Democrat out of retirement.
She is vying for an open seat, vacated by the retiring Rep. Dixon Pitcher, and contending with Republican Lorraine Brown, a South Ogden attorney, running on a platform of states rights and incentivizing jobs in Weber County and pollution reduction statewide.
On paper, this has been a hard-fought district, with Pitcher winning twice by eight points or less, before an easy win two years ago.
Throw into the mix a wild card, a write-in campaign mounted by Terry Schow, the former director of the state’s Department of Veterans Affairs, who lost to Brown in the Republican primary.
Brown has spent more than $50,000 on her campaign, compared to about $17,000 for Shurtliff. But Shurtliff’s built-in name recognition and experience make this a race worth watching.
Rep. Sue Duckworth vs. Barbara Stallone
This Magna district, with a distinct blue-collar union flavor, has been a Democratic stronghold for decades but could be up for grabs this year.
Duckworth has represented District 22 since she took over for her husband, Rep. Carl Duckworth, who retired in 2008 after being diagnosed with cancer. He died in May.
Duckworth is well-liked and traditionally has won re-election easily, but last election she faced stiff opposition, pulling out a 52-48 victory.
This time she faces an energetic candidate, Barbara Stallone, a development director for a nonprofit that provides services to families. Stallone is the sister of state Sen. Daniel Thatcher, who represents the area, as well.
This is a pure, person-to-person campaign, with Duckworth spending less than $8,000 on her race, while Stallone has spent about $6,500.
Rep. Karen Kwan vs. David Young
House District 34, covering chunks of Taylorsville and West Valley City, is one of just a few true “swing” districts in the state. Rep. Karen Kwan, a Democrat, won the open seat in 2016 by a 9-point margin, rebounding from a 6-point loss to incumbent Rep. Johnny Anderson two years earlier.
Republicans think they may have a shot at taking it back, running David Young, a mortgage officer at America First Credit Union, who says his experience in home financing will help him address housing affordability issues.
Kwan, who teaches psychology at Salt Lake Community College, has the fundraising edge over Young. The aggressive get-out-the-vote efforts in the 4th District race between Rep. Mia Love and Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams could also come into play.