Recent gains by Democrats in special elections across the country have some Republicans worried about an anti-Trump wave come November. In Utah, a solidly red state, that looks less likely, but it hasn't stopped Democrats from fielding more candidates for statewide races.
In 2016, Republicans ran unopposed in 22 Utah House districts. This year, only 11 of the chamber’s 75 seats will go unchallenged by Democrats.
Alex Cragun, executive director of the Utah Democratic Party, said they’re running 119 candidates in 95 seats this year, an unprecedented number for them.
“Traditionally, not every seat has been filled by the Utah Democratic Party, and so one of our efforts was to go and find candidates, particularly young candidates, to step up and say they wanted to be part of the solution for Utah,” he said.
Of the 15 state Senate seats up for election, Democrats are running candidates in all but two. Nearly one-fifth of the Legislature is turning over this year, which could give Utah’s Democratic minority and even some third-party candidates an opening.
“Democrats, realistically, no they’re not going to take control of the chamber, but they can make themselves more than a footnote," said Adam Brown, a political science professor at Brigham Young University.
He said the last year Utah Democrats made gains was in 2008, when they had 30 members in the Legislature. After the Tea Party wave elections of 2010 and 2012, their numbers began to dwindle. There are currently 18 Democrats in the statehouse.
“So there’s clearly potential if Democrats have lost nine seats since 2008 in the House and three in the Senate. There’s room to pick some up if they’re serious about contesting those elections," he said.
If the Utah Democratic Party hopes to capitalize on the national trend, Brown said, they have nothing to lose by making a full-court press.
For a full list of candidates, visit the state elections site.