Utah Democrats gaining momentum?

While Utah Democrats had less to celebrate on election night than their national counterparts, some pundits are seeing a glimmer of hope for the state party.

On the national level, the Democrats seized control of both the House of Representatives and the Senate.

But in Utah, the Republican Party defended all three of its congressional incumbents and maintained the vast majority of seats in the Utah State Legislature.

Despite Utah’s resistance to national trends, politicians and analysts are saying that Utah Democrats performed better on election night than they have in the last decade.

“I think the Democrats have been rejuvenated–they’re excited about the prospects of 2008,” said Dan Jones, co-owner of Dan Jones and Associates, a local polling firm.

Jones, a Democrat, made his comments on campus Wednesday during a Hinckley Institute of Politics panel discussion. Jones spoke alongside Republicans Kirk Jowers, Hinckley Institute director, and Dave Buhler, Salt Lake City Council chairman.

Although the Democrats didn’t gain any seats in the state Legislature, the panelists said they came much closer to their Republican opponents at the polls than in years past.

Buhler said that, in districts where Republicans typically win by 60 percent or more of the votes, Democrats were often within several points of the Republican candidates.

The panelists said they were impressed by the Democrats’ ability to sweep several Salt Lake County races.

Democrat Jim Winder beat opponent Aaron Kennard in the race for Salt Lake County Sheriff by a landslide. Winder received 64 percent of the vote, compared with Kennard’s 34 percent.

The Democrats also won the elections for county clerk and recorder and kept a seat on the county council as well.

“Whatever the reasons, Democrats defintely had a good year in Salt Lake County-they did much better than they have in the past,” Buhler said.

Jowers said the Democrats likely would have won more races on the national and state levels if their districts had not been redrawn.

“The Democrats did do better in a number of races, but they didn’t win a lot of times because the districts are so skewed to one party or another,” Jowers said.

Nick Holland, a junior in political science, told The Chronicle he thinks Utah is becoming more favorable to Democrats despite the state’s strong Republican majority.

“The ground is definitely softening (for Democrats), but it will take time,” Holland said.

Mike Terry

Sophomore economics major Patrick Reimherr asks Hinckley forum speakers for their opinions on local Democrats’ losses. Students were given a chance to voice questions or comments in the discussion, which was also broadcast live on KUER FM90.

Mike Terry

Kirk Jowers, Dan Jones and Dave Buhler discuss results of the 2006 midterm elections in a forum at the Hinckley Institute of Politics on Wednesday. The forum covered the question of why Democrats gained seats in the election as well as the effect it will have on politics.

Mike Terry

Mike Terry