Utah Democrats see leads tighten or disappear in four tight state House races

(AP Photo/Rick Bowmer) The Utah House of Representatives convenes for a special session of the Legislature at the Utah State Capitol Thursday, Aug. 20, 2020, in Salt Lake City.

There are a handful of Utah House seats up for grabs after Wednesday’s update of voting results. Control of the Legislature is far from in doubt as Republicans will maintain their veto-proof supermajority, but Democrats have a chance to pick up House seats in back-to-back elections, something that hasn’t happened in more than a decade.

On election night, Democrats led in three GOP-held seats and narrowly trailed in one other, but those numbers have changed dramatically in the ensuing week. As of Wednesday, that split was 2-2, with the results very much up in the air.

Republican Rep. Steve Eliason, from Sandy, looked doomed on election night as he trailed Democrat Wendy Davis by more than 700 votes. After steadily gaining over the last week, Eliason now trails by just three votes. Candidates can request a recount in a race if the margin is less than 0.25% of the total ballots cast.

Perennially endangered Republican Rep. Craig Hall, from West Valley City, added a bit to his lead Wednesday over Democrat Fatima Dirie. Hall now has a 175 vote advantage. This isn’t out of the ordinary for Hall, who won his last two races by an average of 290 votes.

There are 16 Democrats in the Utah House, which is the party’s largest caucus since the 2010-2011 session when they also held 16 seats. If the minority party can flip one GOP-held seat, it would have its largest caucus since 2008-09, when there were 22 Democrats.

The 2010 and 2012 elections were not kind to Utah Democrats. In 2010, Republicans picked up five seats. Two years later, three more Democratic seats fell to Republicans. In 2014, the minority party lost one more, reducing its House ranks to just 13. That’s where the caucus stayed until the party flipped three seats in 2018. The last time the party added seats in successive elections was 2006 and 2008.

House Minority Leader Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, says he’s encouraged by the seeming Democratic gains in the House.

“Utahns recognize there are many ways in which we can improve as a state," he said. “Having representation in the Legislature that better reflects Utah’s diversity is the best way to address the everyday, practical needs of Utah’s families.”

Right now, the likeliest pickup opportunity for Democrats is the seat held by Rep. Eric Hutchings, R-Kearns. Democrat Ashlee Matthews leads by 357 votes, a margin that did not budge following Wednesday’s vote update.

Taylorsville Republican Jim Dunnigan widened his lead over Democrat Lynette Wendel to 90 votes after falling behind on election night by about 300 votes.

There are two Democratic seats that are close right now, but it seems like a good bet that they’ll avoid flipping to Republican control.

Rep. Lawanna “Lou” Shurtliff, the only Democrat in the Legislature outside of Salt Lake County, is ahead by 321 votes in House District 10, which covers parts of South Ogden and Washington Terrace. Republican Travis Campbell is trying to pull this seat back into the GOP’s column after Shurtliff flipped it in 2018.

Democrat Claire Collard leads Republican Anthony Loubet by 276 votes in the race to fill the open seat in Magna held by retiring Democrat Sue Duckworth. This is Collard’s third run at the Legislature after losing state Senate races in 2014 and 2018.