Analysis: Park City congressional candidate has difficult task in reliably Republican district

Park City Democrat Glenn Wright, right, is challenging Republican Congressman John Curtis, the incumbent representative in the 3rd Congressional District. They recently met for a debate in Provo. Wright, early in the campaign, conceded he has little chance of winning the seat in the heavily GOP district. | Jeffrey Allred/Deseret News
Curtis Wright Debate

At least Glenn Wright understood in the spring how difficult a campaign it would be for him.

One of the best-known Democrats in Park City and surrounding Summit County, Wright opted against seeking a third term on the County Council and instead launched a congressional bid.

Now Wright is carrying the banner of the state’s minority party into the final weeks of the campaign in the 3rd Congressional District. It is among the most reliably Republican districts in the nation and covers a wide swath of Utah, reaching to the Colorado border on the east and the Four Corners in the southeast. The population centers of the district include Provo and the southern Salt Lake Valley.

The contest between Wright and Congressman John Curtis is of special note in the Park City area as the community readies for an Election Day with a Parkite so high on the ballot. The district is hardly fertile ground for a Park City-style Democrat seeking to unseat an incumbent Republican who once was the mayor of Provo, and Wright has little chance of topping Curtis on Nov. 8.

Wright acknowledged as much in March, just after launching his successful bid for the Democratic nomination. Wright at the time conceded his chances of winning the congressional seat were “small” and said the district had been gerrymandered by state legislators who redrew congressional boundaries after the 2020 census. It would be a “difficult race,” he said at the time, adding he did not “have any high hope I will actually be a congressman.”

As the final weeks of the campaign arrive, little has occurred that would alter the earlier assessment from the candidate himself. It is likely the returns on Election Day will show Wright winning Summit County by a wide margin. It is a place the Democrats years ago turned blue with all the arrivals from California, New York and other strongholds of the political left. But Summit County accounts for just a small percentage of the votes in the congressional district, and the ballots elsewhere will almost certainly favor Curtis by an overwhelming margin, ultimately keeping the incumbent in office. It is a seat the Democrats should not hold out hopes of flipping this year.

The redrawn map of congressional districts, in place for the first time in 2022, is seen as another strike against someone like Wright. The Republican-controlled state Legislature carved Summit County between two congressional districts, leading to claims from Democrats that their votes will be diluted since they will be split between two districts rather than remaining in just one, as was the case in the past. The 1st Congressional District is also heavily Republican.

Wright throughout his political career has understood the long odds of Democrats in Statehouse and federal contests. He twice lost in bids to serve in the state House of Representatives and, as the former longtime chair of the Summit County Democratic Party, Wright repeatedly attempted to muster support for party candidates at the local, state and federal levels before so many of them went on to defeat outside of Summit County.

Wright’s platform, involving standard-bearer Democratic issues like climate change, women’s health and the economy, plays well in Park City and Summit County. Will voters in Provo see such a platform in a similar vein? Highly unlikely. It seems to lead to an outcome Wright in fact would need to avoid — winning Summit County but losing badly in other parts of the district. That sort of defeat would not be a surprising Election Day result, though, with the Park City area having been a political, social and religious outlier in Utah for generations.

There have been few major-party candidates from Park City or elsewhere in Summit County to seek a seat in Congress in the community’s modern era. The political fate of one of them is particularly noteworthy with Election Day nearing. Donna McAleer, a Pinebrook Democrat, was the party’s nominee in consecutive election cycles, in 2012 and 2014, when Summit County was fully within the 1st Congressional District. McAleer won Summit County in both of the elections, but the incumbent Republican congressman she challenged, Rob Bishop, routed her elsewhere in the district as he easily won reelection in both contests.

McAleer years afterward spoke about the experiences as a Park City-area Democrat in the 1stCongressional District campaigns, saying in a 2020 interview with The Park Record there was a preconceived notion she encountered on the campaign trail involving an “assumption that everybody who lives in Park City is wealthy.” She said she needed to show she was an “everyday citizen” even as the perception of wealth made fundraising more challenging.

Wright prior to the launch of his campaign this year was more prominent within the state Democratic Party infrastructure than McAleer was at the same point of her first bid for a congressional seat, but that alone will hardly account for any sort of noticeable bump on Election Day. Instead, it is expected to be a difficult evening, politically, for Wright — as he understood it would be, even in the spring.

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