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Republicans control 57 out of 75 seats in the Utah House of Representatives. GOP leaders believe they can increase that number following next year’s elections. The new redistricting maps passed by the Utah Legislature could make that a lot easier.
It’s no secret the partisan tilt of the map got a lot more Republican this year, which Utah GOP chairman Carson Jorgensen says presents a big opportunity for Republicans in 2022.
“We absolutely could flip three seats, maybe five if everything goes our way,” Carson said.
The new maps give Republicans a built-in advantage before a single vote is cast.
Using the 2020 presidential election results in Utah, the online PlanScore tool from the campaign legal center projects just 12 seats out of 75 favoring Democrats, while 56 seats with a clear Republican advantage. Of the seven remaining competitive seats, just two lean Democrat while the remaining five favor the GOP. If those projections hold, Republicans will end up with a net gain of +4.
Democratic Party chair Diane Lewis says her party won’t give up that easy.
“Republicans are confident that, with their newly gerrymandered maps, they can flip House seats in the 2022 election. But what they fail to realize is that we have very strong incumbents who are ready to show their constituents why they’re the best option to continue representing their communities in the Legislature,” Lewis said. “We’re also ready to fight Republicans on their own turf and give GOP incumbents a run for their money.”
Which seats are most likely to flip?
Two first-term Democrats saw their districts shift to the GOP under the new maps.
Rep. Claire Collard, D-Magna, won in 2020 even though Republican Donald Trump carried House District 22 by just under 10 points. Using combined partisan election data from DavesRedistricting.org, the partisan advantage in the district moves from R+9 to R+11. PlanScore predicts there’s a 53% chance of a Republican victory using the new maps.
Rep. Rosemary Lesser, D-Ogden, is the only Democrat in the Utah Legislature outside of Salt Lake County. She was selected by Democratic delegates to replace Lawanna “Lou” Shurtliff, who died shortly before the 2021 session. The R+11 to R+15. Planscore says the new maps give a 54% of a Republican victory. Lesser already has two GOP challengers ahead of next year’s election.
House District 30 in West Valley moved slightly toward Democrats with the new maps. The district held by Republican Mike Winder goes from R+9 to R+7. There’s still a 56% chance Republicans will hold the seat.
Democrat Elizabeth Weight’s House District 31 in West Valley made a huge shift toward the GOP. The old district was D+1, while the new boundaries are R+7. Despite that shift, Democrats are given a 72% chance of holding onto the seat.
West Jordan Democrat Ashlee Matthews knocked off longtime Republican Rep. Eric Hutchings in 2020 to win House District 38. That seat shifted from R+8 to R+5 after redistricting with an 83% of a Democratic election win.
Rep. Steve Eliason scored an improbable comeback win last year to hold on to House District 45 in Sandy in 2020. His seat got safer for him under the new boundaries, moving from a partisan advantage of R+8 to R+12.
Rep. Robert Spendlove, who was just elevated to a leadership slot in the GOP caucus, holds a district considered slightly competitive in next year’s election. House District 49 moves from an R+12 to R+17 partisan lean. PlanScore predicts there’s a 77% chance of a Republican hold.
There will be two open seats in next year’s election as Democrat Suzanne Harrison, D-Draper, was moved out of House District 32 into House District 51, which is currently held by Republican Jeff Stenquist. And newly-elected Republican Judy Weeks Rohner saw her House District 33 dissolved as she was shuffled into House District 30, currently held by fellow GOPer Mike Winder.
House District 51 has a massive Republican partisan advantage, coming in at R+35. The newly drawn House District 33 is now a GOP stronghold, with a partisan advantage of R+60.
If history is any guide, Democrats are likely to lose ground next year. The minority party lost seats in the House following the last two redistricting cycles. In 2002, Democrats lost 5 seats in the House, dropping from 24 to 19. In 2012 they suffered a modest two-seat loss, going from 16 to 14.
Republicans would need to pick up six seats next year to have their biggest House caucus in 30 years. They held 62 seats in 2014 and 2016. The largest Democratic contingent during that time was 26 seats in 1992.