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Utah Democrats Nominate Howell for US Senate, Woo Mormon Voters

<i>Dan Bammes</i>
Democratic U.S. Senate nominee Scott Howell

By Dan Bammes & Brian Grimmett

Salt Lake City, UT – The one candidate who got the crowd fired up at the Democratic State Convention didn't have a challenger within the party. That was Peter Cooke, the retired general who's running for governor. He said the state is in trouble because of Governor Gary Herbert's lack of leadership, and he promised "A Utah where teachers are acknowledged as heroes, not villains. A Utah where women can get equal pay and equal opportunity. A Utah were nobody is discriminated against because of their race, their religion, their gender or their preference."

The big surprise of the day came in the race for the U-S Senate, where former State Senator Scott Howell defeated Pete Ashdown with 63% of the delegate vote in the first round. Ashdown ran against Hatch as the party's nominee in 2006. He was clearly disappointed with the loss. "They think we need to elect somebody who's more in the line with Republicans in Utah," Ashdown said. "We need some overhaul in the Democratic Party."

Howell, for his part, says he's ready to take on whichever candidate emerges from the Republican primary. "I've got great respect for both of them. I've had an opportunity to be with Liljenquist. I've debated Senator Hatch. And I think that they'll both provide different challenges, but I look forward to having the opportunity to debate whoever it is."

Former State Representative Jay Seegmiller won the nomination in Utah's 2nd District, while Soren Simonsen picked up more than 76-percent of the delegate vote in the 3rd District.

In the 1st District, Democrats will have to choose between former Army officer and bobsledder Donna McAleer and a young challenger, Ryan Combe. McAlleer was just half a percentage point away from winning the nomination outright. "I'm a little bit disappointed, certainly, going to a primary," she said, "because it's a huge consumption of human and financial capital."

The winner will challenge Congressman Rob Bishop in the general election.

The Democrats' biggest success this election cycle may be the number of Mormon delegates who participated in the convention. Hundreds attended the meeting of the L-D-S caucus early in the day. One of them was Matt Hanzel of Saratoga Springs. He reflected on the experience.

"I don't have a lot to compare it to, being a first-time delegate myself. But everybody, every indication I have is that this is a record turnout, record numbers of people, and I think that it's people like myself who have been dormant for a number of years with regard to our political activity, coming out for the first time and being active participants that could surprise a lot of people come November."

Hanzel and several other L-D-S delegates say they decided to get involved in the convention process after church leaders encouraged members to participate.

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