Republican holds lead for Park City-area state seat, but margin leaves open possibility for Democrat
The Republican candidate in District 54 of the Utah House of Representatives on Friday held a lead in the contest for a legislative seat coveted by the Democrats, but it was not clear three days after Election Day whether the district could be flipped to Democratic control.
Mike Kohler, the Republican, was leading Democrat Meaghan Miller after the preliminary count on Tuesday. The margin, though, appears to leave open a possibility for Miller as remaining ballots are tallied. According to the count on Tuesday, Kohler held a 12,404-10,173 lead. It is a 2,231-vote margin.
The district involves parts of Summit County and Wasatch County and is co-anchored by Park City and Heber City. Both of the candidates are from the Midway area of Wasatch County. The tally on Election Day showed Kohler performing especially well in Wasatch County, contrasting with Miller’s strong showing in Summit County.
The disparity between the two counties was expected. Summit County, especially the Park City area, has a long history of Democratic support while Heber City and surrounding Wasatch County leans Republican.
It is unknown how many votes within the district are left to be counted between the two counties. If the bulk of the outstanding vote is from Wasatch County, it could bode well for Kohler. If there are great numbers of uncounted ballots in Summit County, though, Miller could benefit.
The Summit County Clerk’s Office said it was not sure on Friday morning how many ballots in District 54 remained to be counted among the approximately 8,000 outstanding ballots countywide. Summit County is split between three House districts. The office on Friday planned to finish qualifying the remaining ballots and begin tabulating again as early as late on Friday.
The Wasatch County Clerk-Auditor Office on Friday said there are approximately 1,500 ballots left to count. All of them are in District 54 and they include provisional ballots and those sent from overseas. Another count could occur on Thursday, the office said.
It appeared certain even before Election Day it would be difficult to call the election in District 54 on Tuesday. It was expected to be a close contest two years after another narrow result in the district. The Republican in 2018, Tim Quinn, bested Miller, but the outcome was uncertain for weeks after the election.
Quinn did not seek reelection, leaving the District 54 seat without an incumbent on the ballot. The Democrats see there being a possibility to pick up a seat in the heavily Republican lower house of the Legislature. The state’s minority party has for years hoped to turn a district that includes Park City but has been unsuccessful, first in District 53 and then in District 54.
The three other legislative contests in districts that cover portions of Summit County were essentially decided on Tuesday, with the Democratic candidate leading by a wide margin in one of them and the Republican with a large lead in the two others.
In House District 28, the incumbent Democrat, Brian King, led with 13,025 votes to Republican Carol Hunter’s 4,268. In House District 53, incumbent Republican Kera Birkeland led with 11,999 votes to Democrat Cheryl Butler’s 7,007. Republican John D. Johnson was ahead in Senate District 19 with 16,688 votes to Democrat Katy Owens’ 14,734.
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