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Democrats on track to pick up three Utah state house seats

Democrats are on track to pick up three seats in the Utah state house and are competitive in several others. (Photo: Kelli Pierce)

SALT LAKE CITY – Utah Democratic candidates are currently in the lead in three close races for state house seats in the suburbs of Salt Lake City. 

Democrats are also competitive in four more races in Salt Lake and Wasatch counties. 

Utah Democratic Party Chairman Jeff Merchant believes the state’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic has been a big motivator. 

“[COVID-19] hasn’t slowed down, at least on the Democratic side, the number of people interested in volunteering, helping out,” Merchant says. 

Another way Democrats have attracted voters is by hitting Republicans for their support for a recent failed tax reform plan, as well as for changing several voter-approved referendums. 

“We’ve seen that with three propositions. We’ve seen that with ‘so-called’ tax reform that the people rejected,” Merchant says. “That has really been a key message that we’ve used to get voters out.”  

Political analysts believe another reason for the close races is the changing voter makeup of longtime conservative districts in the Salt Lake City suburbs. 

In House District 38, longtime Rep. Eric Hutchings (R-Kearns) had about 46.5% of the vote to challenger Ashley Matthews’s 53.5%.

Rep. Jim Dunnigan (R-Taylorsville) is behind Democrat Lynette Wendel 48.8% to her 51.2%.

And in House District 45, Rep. Steve Eliason (R-Sandy) is trailing Democrat Wendy Davis, who has 52.6% to his 47.4%. 

In all three races, the candidates are separated by fewer than 650 votes each. 

Democrats are also competitive in races in West Valley City, Heber City, and another in Sandy.  

However, it is unlikely that they will break the Republican supermajority.

Even so, Merchant is happy any time Democrats are competitive in the Utah state house. 

“Republican legislators who get really close to losing, but still win, one of two things happens. They either begin to moderate their views…or they retire,” Merchant says.