An already thin herd of Democrats is further depleted in Utah on Tuesday.—
Over the past couple of election cycles, Democrats have leveraged moderate goodwill and frustrations with Republicans to make modest gains in the Legislature. They had some high-profile victories, most notably Jay Seegmiller knocking out then House Speaker Greg Curtis, and they also won seats in southern Salt Lake County districts that were formerly GOP strongholds.
All of those gains… gone. Although Utah Democrats work very hard to distance themselves from the national party leaders, the overall anti-Democrat, anti-incumbent mood hammered the minority party. They were hit especially hard in the House, losing two senior representatives and three others in those southern seats. And, almost as bad, no challenger even made a Republican incumbent sweat.
Among those House members who lost: Rep. Neil Hansen, D-Ogden; Rep. Jim Gowans, D-Tooele, Rep. Seegmiller, D-Sandy, Rep. Laura Black, D-Sandy, and Rep. Trisha Beck, D-Sandy. Also, Sen. Brent Goodfellow, D-West Valley, who has 25 years of legislative experience, lost.
For what it’s worth, there are now 58 Republicans and 17 Democrats in the House, and in the Senate it is 22-7. But really, those numbers mean nothing. The only numbers that do matter to the minority party are 25 and 10, which would give them a voting bloc of one-third. With that, they at least can prevent a veto override and have enough of a say on floor motions to make the majority party at least talk to them.
There was actually very little for Democrats to cheer about in Utah Tuesday. Along with losing important races, they didn’t have anything close to an upset brewing. In fact, the closest thing they had to a surprising candidate was in Weber County, where Betty Sawyer ran a strong campaign and at least made Stuart Reid work to hold the seat he was appointed to last year. But even there, Sawyer only had 40 percent of the vote.
What can Democrats celebrate? U.S. Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, is still in Congress. But with the loss of seemingly every other Blue Dog Democrat and the Republican control of the House, Matheson has lost a lot of juice. At this point, if I were in his shoes, I would spend the next two years with an eye towards the U.S. Senate in 2012. There were also other Democrats that withstood strong Republican challenges, most notably Rep. Tim Cosgrove, D-Murray.
And, finally, there was the gubernatorial race. Peter Corroon ran one hell of a campaign, and sucked up a ton of volunteer energy and campaign contributions. Yet, at the end of the day, the results were exactly as was expected. I think a lot of Democrats are scratching their heads, trying to figure out what, exactly, they can ever do to win a major race.