Pignanelli & Webb: As the election nears, national contests are grabbing most of the media attention as control of Congress hangs in the balance. However, valiant political warriors are battling each other in county and legislative races as well. Some of these contests include an additional candidate from the United Utah Party, providing more intrigue.
These defenders of democracy are engaged in retail politics and are to be commended for their willingness to engage. We highlight some key races.
The most-watched. In 2016, well-liked physician Democrat Suzanne Harrison lost her bid to replace well-known Rep. LaVar Christensen by only five votes in Sandy/Draper District 32. Many observers believed she could win the seat in a nonpresidential election year and she announced accordingly. But Christensen filed for the Senate. Instead, Harrison faces respected self-made Republican businessman Brad Bonham, who is offering a spirited challenge. Further, this race is complicated by a United Utah candidate, Bjorn Jones. This fight features the best that each party has to offer, and the results will be fascinating.
Incumbent Democratic Rep. Sue Duckworth, and her husband (who retired for health reasons), deflected stiff Republican challenges over several election cycles. Republican Barbara Stallone is providing another tough fight for this Magna/West Valley district.
District 44, mostly in Murray, flipped back and forth over the last several decades. Incumbent Republican Bruce Cutler has prevailed in two elections by slim margins. Democrat Andrew Stoddard is hoping for an upset this time.
Ogden’s District 9 — once a Democratic stronghold — was captured by now-retiring Republican Jeremy Peterson. Calvin Musselman is hoping to hold the seat for the GOP but faces tough competition from Democrat Kathie Darby.
_Just plain interesting_. Known as the "hardest-working person in Utah politics," Democrat Patrice Arent never, ever takes anything for granted and swamps all opposition in this Millcreek District. Yet, 2018 offers a new element for her. Republican Todd Zenger is a respected lawyer and current member of the Granite School District Board of Education. This is truly a battle of brains.
The political world was shocked by the retirement of House Speaker Greg Hughes from his Draper District 51. He recruited Republican Draper City Councilman Jeff Stenquist. Unopposed by a Democrat, Stenquist faces fellow council member Michele Weeksunder the United Utah Party. Weeks once ran as a Democrat for the Senate and was nearly elected mayor of Draper last year. "Interesting" is an understatement for this contest.
Democrat Elizabeth Weight knocked off popular Republican Sophia DiCaro in the West Valley District 31 by a slim margin. Her challenges from Republican Fred Johnson and United Utah's Brian Fabbi are capturing attention.
Democrats always hope Park City can boost their strength (it hasn't yet). But they're putting their hopes on challenger Meaghan Miller against incumbent Republican Tim Quinn — who is popular in this Summit/Wasatch County District.
In 2016, Karen Kwan was able to recapture this Taylorsville/Murray District for the Democrats. Republican David Young is pushing for reversal.
Will these districts swing? Although they've been held by the GOP for a number of cycles, many still remember when Democrats won races in certain districts. So, can Republican Mike Winder hold West Valley District 30 against Democrat Robert Burch? Republican incumbent Craig Hall will face Democrat Ira Hatch (also in West Valley). Other such “swing” contests include District 38 (Kearns), where longtime incumbent Eric Hutchins faces Democrat Edgar Harwood, and Sandy District 49, featuring incumbent Republican Robert Spendlove, Democrat Anthony Sudweeks and United Utah's Mark Russell.
Universally loved Republican Brian Shiozawa retired early and the equally nice fellow physician Brian Zehnder was appointed in Senate District 8. He is facing a tough fight from Democrat Kathleen Riebe and United Utah's John Jackson.
_Republicans pitch “A place at the table” argument_. Liberal favorite Rebecca Chavez Houck announced her retirement from the Avenues/Capitol Hill District 24 last year, provoking a spirited four-way Democratic primary in June. The victor, Jen Dailey-Provost, is clearly the favorite to win in this left-wing area, but Republican Scott Rosenbush is working hard, promoting himself as a “New Jersey-type Republican” brimming with moderation.
James Dabakis also announced his retirement from Salt Lake City Senate District 2, and City Councilman Derek Kitchen won a tough primary and is also predicted to prevail. Chase Winder (yep, of the Winder clan) is also aggressively pushing against a blue wall.
The Millcreek/Holladay Senate District 4 awarded Democrat Jani Iwamoto a strong margin four years ago, but Republican newcomer Alan Monsen is doing his best to counter the popular incumbent.
Will the GOP County Council hold? Democrat Jim Bradley is a fixture in Salt Lake County politics, serving both as a commissioner and an at-large council member. Respected as ethical and decent, he is facing a tough challenge from former legislator Sophia DiCaro, who enjoys a reputation for hard work and integrity. The outcome of this race will possibly signify a trend for countywide elections in 2020.
Recently deceased beloved Democrat Sam Granato was unopposed in his County Council race in 2016. His wife, Ann — chosen as his replacement — is running to fill his term. Michelle Quist is a respected GOP activist, known for her journalistic endeavors on the web and with the Salt Lake Tribune. Both face United Utah's Robert Cundick.
Correction: A previous version mislabeled one of Utah's political parties. It is the United Utah Party, not the Utah United Party.