Utah’s Democrats mobilize at state convention
Summit County’s Democratic Party Chair Cheryl Butler was inspired by what she sees as a diverse and strong slate of Democratic candidates who attended the Utah State Democratic Convention over the weekend in Salt Lake City.
“What we saw, just makes me feel good,” she said. “We had a lot of women and young people running. It was fun for me to see.”
Utah’s Democrats created momentum at the state convention, Butler said, with those in attendance placing a significant amount of emphasis on highlighting core Democratic values, such as protecting individual human rights and the environment.
“There was this idea present that we need to stand up and make sure our Democratic voters are energized and organized,” she said. “The nature of the game is making sure people are mobilized to return those ballots and get to the polls. If Democrats turn out and vote, we will win.”
Nearly 1,000 delegates, including at least 100 from Summit and Wasatch counties, attended the convention on Saturday, Butler said. The Democratic candidates for U.S. Senate, U.S. Congress and Utah’s state legislative seats, as well as members of the Democratic National Committee, addressed party members at the event during the individual caucuses.
U.S. Senate hopeful Jenny Wilson handily walked away with the party’s nomination over three other candidates, securing a spot on the November ballot for the seat held by the retiring Republican Orrin Hatch.
Davis County Democrats Lee Castillo and Kurt Weiland, who are vying to challenge Republican incumbent Rep. Rob Bishop for the 1st Congressional District seat, which includes Summit County, were unable to secure enough delegate support over the weekend and will face each other in a primary in June.
Wasatch Back candidates Pat Vaughn and Eileen Gallagher, who are competing for the party’s nomination for the State Senate District 26 seat, are also poised for a primary in June. Incumbent Sen. Kevin Van Tassell, R-Vernal, is not seeking reelection.
Vaughn is a Midway resident who worked under former Gov. John Huntsman as part of his office’s economic development team. Vaughn said she sees herself and Gallagher as highly qualified candidates and “I think both of us can do the job.”
“The real question lies ahead and whether we believe this seat should flip from red to blue,” she said. “Who can win the election? We have to have someone who can deal with the Republican base and sell our concepts.”
The primary differences between the two, Vaughn said, are their platforms and backgrounds.
“I think Eileen has some great ideas. She is very passionate around health care and I’m equally as passionate, but very business oriented,” she said. “I’ve worked across party lines and I have an economic development background. My expansive career has led me to this moment, and I am extremely ready to give back and be able to share this vastness of experience.”
Gallagher, a physician from Park City, said she wasn’t surprised the contest is resulting in a primary. She added, “I think it is a good thing because we will have equal coverage in an area of the district where it is hard to get people out to vote.”
“I think we are strong candidates, but people who pay attention to our platforms and styles and goals will notice there are some differences there,” she said.
Gallagher admitted “this is a tough district for a Democratic candidate.” To win, she said, it will require a candidate to spend time with voters and get people excited about the process.
“That’s how I plan to spend my time,” she said. “I plan to have some honor and some integrity in how I go forward whether I win or lose.”
Parkite Meaghan Miller won the party’s nomination for the House District 54 seat over fellow Parkite Roberto M. Lopez. She will face Tim Quinn, R-Heber, in the general election. Park City resident Christopher Neville is challenging District 53 Rep. Logan Wilde, R-Croydon. He did not have a Democratic challenger.
Butler said one of the most telling aspects of the convention was the attendance of national party members, including Democratic National Committee Vice Chair Michael Blake. She said representatives of the National Committee visited every caucus and individually spent time with delegates to promote their “Every zip code counts” campaign.
“I really appreciated that commitment of the national folks,” she said. “We have this representation of being a flyover state, and that was not the case this year. Folks at the national and state level realize that Utah counts. Yes, it has been red for a while and now in many respects we are the underdog, but we have a lot of winnable races as we recognize that seats are getting flipped across the country.”
Primary elections will be held June 26, with the Summit County Clerk’s office sending out mail-in ballots June 5.
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The Coalville native doesn’t see any major roadblocks for this year’s fair, though presenting in front of the County Council is a little nerve wracking.