Editor’s note • This story is part of The Salt Lake Tribune’s voter guide for the 2022 midterm elections. You can find all the stories in both English and Spanish here.
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Following the most competitive primary election season in Utah in decades, the general election contests for the Utah Legislature are shaping up to be, mostly, less exciting.
While all 75 seats in the Utah House and 15 seats in the Utah Senate are up for grabs, less than a dozen of those contests are expected to be competitive, mostly due to last year’s redistricting, which should cement Republican control of the Utah Legislature for the foreseeable future.
Right now, Republicans control 57 out of 75 seats in the Utah House and 23 of 29 in the Utah Senate. House members are elected to a two-year term, while Utah state senators serve for four-year terms.
The new maps, which went into effect at the start of this year, have a pronounced partisan tilt toward the GOP. Independent analyses of the new boundaries conclude that Republicans have a decided advantage in most races.
Before a single voter casts a ballot, the GOP is well on the way to keeping or expanding its supermajorities. In the Utah House, 25 seats held by Republicans are uncontested. These include two top House Republicans: House Majority leader Mike Schultz and Assistant Majority Whip Val Peterson.
In the Senate, two Republicans and one Democrat on the ballot have no significant party opposition.
The new maps approved by the Legislature late last year produced an astonishing number of districts safe for either Republicans or Democrats, leaving very few competitive districts on the table. Had the new boundaries been in place in 2020, most of the Republican-held seats would have been carried comfortably by Donald Trump. Similarly, according to estimates from election forecaster CN Analysis, most Democrat-held seats would have gone for Biden by a large margin.
Utah House races
House District 1 is typically a GOP stronghold, but this year the election has been mired in controversy as Republican nominee Joel Ferry resigned from the Legislature after being appointed executive director of the Utah Department of Natural Resources.
While Ferry is still on the ballot, Democrat Joshua Hardy has cried foul, alleging Ferry cannot serve in the Legislature and will resign if elected so that GOP delegates will pick his replacement instead of voters. Hardy and the Utah Democratic Party sued to force Ferry off the ballot, but the courts rejected that effort.
There are three write-in candidates in the race — Thomas Peterson, Karson Riser and former state Rep. Ben Ferry. Peterson was selected to fill out the remainder of Ferry’s term by Republican delegates earlier this month.
There are 10 Utah House districts that went for either Joe Biden or Donald Trump by fewer than 10 percentage points in 2020. Four have an incumbent opposite of the presidential candidate that carried the district.
In South Ogden’s House District 10, Democratic incumbent Rosemary Lesser is facing a stiff challenge from Republican Jill Koford. Lesser is the sole Democrat in the Legislature outside Salt Lake County. Republican Lorainne Brown, who lost to Koford in the June primary election, has endorsed the incumbent Democrat. Trump carried this district by 3 points in 2020, which is why Republicans see it as an opportunity.
Democrat Claire Collard hopes to win a second term in House District 27, which covers Magna and western West Valley City. The district went for Trump by 3 percent in 2020. Republican Anthony Loubet lost to Collard in 2020 by just 266 votes.
The race in West Valley’s House District 30 is unique in that there’s technically no incumbent in the race. State Rep. Mike Winder is not running for re-election, and Republican Judy Weeks Rohner’s old district was eliminated in redistricting. She was drawn into this district, which Joe Biden would have carried by 6 points.
Rohner’s opponent, Democrat Fatima Dirie, lost the 2020 election to former state Rep. Craig Hall by 146 votes. Hall resigned after being appointed as a judge by Gov. Spencer Cox and was replaced by Rohner. According to L2 Data, nearly 37 percent of the voters in this district are unaffiliated. Registered Republicans account for 35 percent, while Democrats make up 23 percent.
Steve Eliason is another GOP incumbent representing a district that would have supported Biden in 2020. Biden outpaced Trump by four points in the new boundaries of House District 43 in Cottonwood Heights and Sandy. The Republican faces Democratic challenger Alan Anderson.
Two years ago, Eliason squeaked past Democrat Wendy Davis by just 77 votes. Eliason’s new boundaries are much more favorable to him. Registered Republicans make up 43 percent of voters, while about 19% are registered Democrats.
Republican Jim Dunnigan faces Democrat Lynette Wendel in a rematch from 2020 in Taylorsville’s House District 36. Two years ago, Dunnigan snuck past Wendell by 84 votes. Registered Republicans in the district jumped from 39 to 43 percent, while the percentage of Democrats dropped by three points after redistricting. Considering how close the contest was two years ago, even a slight increase in the partisan gap could prove decisive.
House District 42 in Sandy, currently represented by Republican Robert Spendlove, looked like it had the potential to be a swing seat this year. Because of redistricting, he represents a seat that would have favored Trump by just 5 points in 2020. No Democrat filed to challenge him this year, leaving United Utah Party nominee David Jack and unaffiliated candidate Carson Barlow as his opposition.
There are a few other House races worth keeping an eye on come November.
In House District 16, Republican Steve Handy is hoping to become the first candidate for Utah Legislature to win a write-in campaign since 1970. Handy, who didn’t gather signatures to run in the primary, lost the Republican nomination to newcomer Trevor Lee at the Davis County GOP convention in March.
Handy launched his write-in effort after Lee made transphobic comments on a conservative podcast. In September, Lee was condemned by GOP legislative leaders after The Salt Lake Tribune reported he was behind an anonymous Twitter account that attacked LGBTQ people and promoted the #DezNat conservative religious philosophy. Libertarian Brent Zimmerman is also running.
Unaffiliated voters make up the largest block in House District 26, which covers parts of Magna and West Valley City, accounting for approximately 39% of the electorate. Incumbent Democrat Elizabeth Weight faces Republican Quinn Kotter in a +4 Biden district.
Democrats believe Hope Goeckeritz might have a shot at knocking off Incumbent Republican Ken Ivory in the redrawn House District 39 in West Jordan. Republicans account for 43% of registered voters in the new district, while just 18% are Democrats. Republicans may have a slight advantage here as it’s a Trump +7 seat.
Incumbent Democrat Ashlee Matthews in House District 37 hopes to win another term against Republican Henry Medina in this Biden +7 seat. Matthews upset longtime Republican state Rep. Eric Hutchings in 2020.
There are seven Utah House races where the Republican candidate did not draw a Democratic challenger, leaving only third-party opposition.
Current Utah House Speaker Brad Wilson faces a rematch with United Utah nominee Ammon Gruwell in House District 15. Wilson won the 2020 matchup with Gruwell by more than 50 points.
In House District 46, Republican Jeff Stenquist is on the ballot against United Utah nominee Ladd Johnson in this Draper-area seat.
In House District 47, Republican state Rep. Mark Strong takes on Dave Lundgren from the United Utah Party in the Bluffdale area.
House Majority Whip Jefferson Moss, from House District 51, is opposed by Libertarian Party candidate Jeremy Baker. The district covers parts of Lehi and Saratoga Springs.
Freshman Republican Jefferson Burton, of the Spanish Fork-area’s House District 64, faces United Utah nominee Alan Wessman.
In House District 66 — which covers several cities, including Nephi, Manti and Mount Pleasant — voters will choose between Republican Steven Lund and Constitution Party nominee Russ Hatch.
Incumbent Republican Carl Albrecht’s opponent in House District 70 is United Utah nominee Zeno Parry in. The district stretches from Richfield to Cedar City.
All 15 Democratic incumbents on the ballot this year have a Republican challenger.
Utah Senate races
Fifteen Utah Senate seats are up for election during this year’s midterms, but not all of those seats are contested. Like the Utah House races, several of these contests were held within parties during this summer’s primary election.
None of the state Senate seats on the ballot this year is expected to produce any surprises.
Republican state Sen. Kirk Cullimore’s newly redistricted Senate District 19 seat would have given Trump his narrowest margin of victory in 2020 at 10 points. For Democrats, Utah Senate Minority Leader Karen Mayne’s Senate District 12 was the closest district carried by Biden at 12 percent.
Five Republican incumbents have no opponent on the ballot. State Sens. Scott Sandall in District 1, Jerry Stevenson in District 6, Daniel Thatcher in District 11, Mike Kennedy in District 21 and Keith Grover in District 23 will appear alone on Utahns’ ballots.
There are three other races where the Republican or Democrat nominee does not have a major party opponent.
Current Senate President Stuart Adams, a Republican who represents District 7, faces United Utah nominee Kimberly Wagner and Libertarian Adam Feller.
In Senate District 28, Senate Majority Leader Evan Vickers is facing a challenge from United Utah candidate Patricia Bradford and Libertarian Barry Short.
In Salt Lake City’s Senate District 9, Democrat Jennifer Plumb — who defeated incumbent Sen. Derek Kitchen in the June Primary — only has a write-in candidate, Vance Hansen, standing between her and a four-year term in the Utah Capitol.