Utah Democrats gather to select congressional nominees

Ben McAdams
The Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Hundreds of Utah Democrats gathered in downtown Salt Lake City on Saturday to select nominees for the state’s congressional races, including a U.S. House contest that is predicted to be the sole competitive race for federal office.

Moderate two-term Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams is expected to receive the nomination to face off against GOP Rep. Mia Love in what may be Utah Democrats’ best chance to send one of their own to Congress. He goes up against four challengers for the nomination in a largely suburban district south of Salt Lake City, though the field narrowed slightly Saturday when robotics engineer Tom Taylor withdrew his nomination.

While he still technically remains on the ballot, Taylor threw his support behind technical engineer Darlene McDonald.

“There is a tendency for Democrats here in Utah to try and play it safe,” Taylor said. “This is failed strategy.”

In most of the state, Democrats are expected to be heavy underdogs in the general election against GOP candidates who will benefit from Utah’s overwhelmingly Republican voter registration.

Yet many of the nearly 1,000 Democrats present on Saturday expressed cautious optimism on the heels of surprising recent victories across the nation, and were looking to take advantage of opposition to President Donald Trump’s policies.

“There’s a lot of belief that there’s this blue wave thing going around,” said Michael Esplin, 28, a student from suburban Millcreek. “But it’s still Utah.”

McAdams enjoys the support of the national Democratic campaign arm, which thinks he can help the party’s goal of flipping 23 seats to take control of the U.S. House.

In his convention remarks, he called Love a “no-show” and accused of her of falling in line with Trump.

Elected state party delegates will choose nominees for Congress and the state Legislature, as well as set priorities for issue and identity-based caucus groups.

They are expected to select two-term Salt Lake County Councilwoman Jenny Wilson as the party’s nominee for the Senate seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Orrin Hatch. She goes up against three challengers Saturday, including a former IRS agent and a marketing professional.

If nominated, Wilson will face off against the winner of a June 26 Republican primary between former presidential candidate Mitt Romney and state lawmaker Mike Kennedy. Romney is the heavy favorite to become the GOP nominee and win the general election.

“Although Mitt Romney’s hair and his manners might be better than Orrin Hatch’s, his policies will be as devastating,” Wilson said.

Utah’s three other congressional districts are expected to be defended by popular GOP incumbents in the general election. Democrats will choose from a variety of candidates for those races — including a retired Army officer, a sociology professor and a retired U.S. Small Business Administration analyst — but each is set to face daunting odds in November.