Moderate Democrats woo Utah Republicans turned off by Trump ahead of Super Tuesday

Feb 28, 2020, 6:37 AM
Super tuesday...
In this Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2020, photo, Taylor West poses for a photograph during a "Republicans in Utah supporting Pete Buttigieg" debate watch party in Salt Lake City. Democratic presidential candidates like to boast about their ability to lure away disaffected Republican voters. If there’s a place to test their skills, it’s Utah. Utah is “not a huge delegate win, but it represents who is a candidate that can realistically peel off some Republican or moderate or independently minded voters to build a coalition,” said West, an executive in the mountain town of Heber City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
(AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Democratic presidential candidates like to boast about their ability to lure away disaffected Republican voters ahead of Super Tuesday. If there’s a place to test their skills, it’s Utah.

The deep red state is a bastion of conservative resistance to President Donald Trump. While the president has conquered virtually every other corner of the GOP landscape, his powers just don’t work as well here.

The state’s polite conservatism clashes hard with Trump’s take-no-prisoners approach. Its openly religious electorate bristles at Trump’s immigration policies, limits on refugee resettlement and Twitter attacks on civil servants. He won the state — but without a majority. Voters sent Trump critic Mitt Romney to the Senate, and the national wave of GOP anger over his a vote to oust the president from office was tempered by voices of support in Utah.

Now Democratic presidential candidates are making a play to capitalize on that.

Utah is “not a huge delegate win, but it represents who is a candidate that can realistically peel off some Republican or moderate or independently-minded voters to build a coalition,” said Taylor West, an executive in the mountain town of Heber City.

West is a Republican who supports Pete Buttigieg. While he disagrees with the former South Bend, Indiana, mayor on issues like abortion and increasing the minimum wage, he supports his drive to reduce the national debt, which has increased under the Trump Administration, and limit executive overreach.

West helped his former Harvard classmate court Republican voters this week with an event explaining how to vote in the state’s open Democratic primary, which allows any voter to participate regardless of party affiliation. The event attracted more than 60 people interested in Buttigieg, who makes a point of discussing his religious faith on the campaign trail.

Peeling off large swaths of Republicans won’t be easy: Trump does have a base of support in Utah, and a strong economy paired with the party’s deep social roots in the state will likely insulate him from large-scale GOP defections, said Chris Karpowitz, a political science associate professor at Brigham Young University.

Still, there are some early indications that enthusiasm is running high: The number of registered Democrats in Salt Lake County, the state’s most populous, has increased 13% since September. That brings them to about 22% of voters, compared with 35% for Republicans. Most of the rest of the county’s voters are unaffiliated.

Meanwhile, Bernie Sanders won big in Utah in 2016 and will be welcomed as a front-runner when he appears in the state Monday, the day before the series of March 3 Democratic primaries known as Super Tuesday.

That hasn’t stopped another moderate Democratic candidate, former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg, from holding rallies twice in Utah. While his campaign hasn’t directly targeted GOP voters, a strong finish from a third-party candidate in 2016 shows Utah voters are looking for an alternative, said state director Lauren Littlefield.

“Bloomberg can absolutely be that candidate,” she said.

Bloomberg’s pitch that he’s got the financing and the New York-bred sharp elbows to take on Trump resonated with stay-at-home mother Emily Dastrup, 42, from the suburban community of Kaysville.

She’s a Republican but voting Democrat in the primary. A devout member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Dastrup is hoping a moderate wins the nomination since she’s deeply skeptical about socialism.

“I’m trying hard to find a candidate to vote for. I believe in voting very much, and I really believe in being a good example for my children,” she said. “I’m tired of rabid ideology and holding that up as something to be proud of.”

Faith can cut both ways for Democrats campaigning Utah: While distaste for Trump is often rooted in Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sensibilities, most members are conservative on issues like abortion.

That’s a defining issue for Alicia Alba, 40, of Lindon, south of Salt Lake City. She’d voted for almost every Republican she could — until the 2016 presidential race.

“I have been against Trump from the very first time he came down that escalator,” she said. This year, she considered Bill Weld, Trump’s long-shot GOP rival, but ultimately decided she wanted to have more of a say about who would become the president’s Democratic opponent.

Finally, she discovered that Amy Klobuchar had said she supports a “big tent” Democratic party that includes abortion opponents. Alba believes making abortion obsolete means supporting women and families with programs at every stage of life, something she doesn’t hear much talk about from Republican candidates.

“I reached out to my county clerk and asked them to send me a Democratic primary ballot for the first time in my life,” she said. If Klobuchar doesn’t win the nomination, though, she’s not sure she can vote for the nominee.

“The choice between Republicans and Democrats right now is, if you want to protect people before they’re born or after they’re born,” she said. “And that’s a pretty rotten choice.”

Today’s Top Stories

Your Voice, Your Vote

threats election workers ballot count amendments utah...
Lindsay Aerts

County clerks report more poll watchers, scrutiny ahead of Utah primary

Ahead of the 2022 Utah Primary election, clerks Salt Lake and Utah counties are reporting more poll watchers are serving as watchdogs.
4 months ago
Utahns could get a tax cut....

Utah Senate passes a tax cut for Utahns, Gov. Cox says he will sign it

The Utah Senate just unanimously passed a bill, giving Utahns a big tax cut. People in the state could see $193 million back in taxes.
8 months ago
utah poll unfavorable to president biden...
Mary Richards

New poll shows low favorability in Utah for President Biden

The Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll shows that 45% of Utah residents have a favorable opinion of President Joe Biden, while 3% aren’t sure.
2 years ago
Vice President Mike Pence and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., read the final certifica...

Biden win confirmed after violent pro-Trump protestors storms US Capitol

Congress has confirmed Democrat Joe Biden as the presidential election winner, hours after violent protesters loyal to President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol.
2 years ago
president trump trial...
ZEKE MILLER and JILL COLVIN Associated Press

Trump says his term is ending, transition will be orderly

President Donald Trump says there will be an “orderly transition on January 20th” now that Congress has concluded the electoral vote count certifying President-elect Joe Biden’s victory.
2 years ago
(Some of the flags and signs outside the Utah State Capitol.  Credit: Paul Nelson)...
Paul Nelson

Hundreds participate in “Stop The Steal” rally at Utah State Capitol

Hundreds of President Trump’s supporters in Utah gather on the Capitol grounds to protest what they call the stealing of the presidential election. 
2 years ago

Sponsored Articles

Young woman receiving laser treatment...
Form Derm Spa

How facial plastic surgery and skincare are joining forces

Facial plastic surgery is not only about looking good but about feeling good too. The medical team at Form Spa are trained to help you reach your aesthetic outcomes through surgery and through skincare and dermatology, too.
large group of friends tohether in a park having fun...
BYU MBA at the Marriott School of Business

What differentiates BYU’s MBA program from other MBA programs

Commitment to service is at the heart of BYU’s MBA program, which makes it stand out among other MBA programs across the country.
a worker with a drill in an orange helmet installs a door in the house...
Price's Guaranteed Doors

Home improvement tip: Increase the value of your home by weatherproofing doors

Make sure your home is comfortable before the winter! Seasonal maintenance keeps your home up to date. Read our tips on weatherproofing doors.
Curb Appeal...
Price's Guaranteed Doors

How to have the best of both worlds for your house | Home security and curb appeal

Protect your home and improve its curb appeal with the latest security solutions like beautiful garage doors and increased security systems.
A paper reading IRS, internal revenue service is pictured...
Jordan Wilcox

The best strategies for dealing with IRS tax harassment | You have options!

Learn how to deal with IRS tax harassment. This guide will teach you how to stop IRS phone calls and letters, and how to handle an IRS audit.
spend a day at Bear Lake...
Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

You’ll love spending the day at Bear Lake | How to spend a day at Bear Lake

Bear Lake is a place that needs to be experienced. Spend a day at Bear Lake.
Moderate Democrats woo Utah Republicans turned off by Trump ahead of Super Tuesday