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A marriage therapist from Sandy with little political experience believes he has what it takes to unseat Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, in 2016.
Jonathan Swinton announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination Monday, becoming the first person to challenge Lee, a far-right conservative who is seeking his second term in office.
"I spend all day, every day working with people who can't get along with each other and I help them cooperate," said Swinton. "I've been watching Washington, seeing the deterioration, the dissatisfaction people have with Congress in general. I think I'm the right kind of guy to change that culture."
Swinton has long intended to run for public office someday, but he isn't a widely known figure in the Utah Democratic Party. He reached out to party leaders about a month ago to start ramping up his run.
Democratic Executive Director Lauren Littlefield said she met with Swinton and came away impressed.
"It is so nice to have some fresh blood in the party," she said, though she predicts that other Democrats will get into the race. "I do think there will be a convention fight for the U.S. Senate seat. People are excited to take on Lee. I know Utah is a red state, but people think he is vulnerable."
Swinton does. He is not only planning a campaign but he's already talked to his employees about how to transition his business once he moves to Washington, D.C.
Swinton is the owner of Swinton Counseling, which opened five years ago and already has seven locations. He believes his professional experience will help him find middle ground politically and nudge strident politicians toward reaching compromise.
In contrast, he paints Lee as "an extremist." A study out of Brigham Young University found that Lee is the most conservative member of the U.S. Senate, and he is often at odds with not only Democrats, but Republicans on budgetary matters. Lee, though, is working with Democrats on a slate of criminal-justice reforms.
Swinton and Lee have never met.
"Utahns deserve a vigorous campaign in 2016 and I'm excited to welcome Dr. Swinton to the race," Lee said in a statement, noting his goals to boost employment, lower the cost of living and help small businesses. "I look forward to a thoughtful dialogue on this agenda and other solutions we need to finally reform Washington."
Swinton said if he takes office he plans to fight for term limits for members of Congress and wants to tweak tax laws to help small business owners, such as reducing the amount of Social Security tax an entrepreneur has to pay.
He is actively raising money for his campaign, but has no expectation of matching the fundraising abilities of a sitting senator. Instead, he plans to rely heavily on a social-media campaign to introduce himself to Utah voters.
Swinton is a Utah native and a Mormon, who is married to Annie, a high-school math teacher. They have a son.
Utah Democrats had hoped that former Rep. Jim Matheson would challenge Lee, though that appears highly unlikely. Since retiring from the House, Matheson has become a lobbyist in Washington.
Many within Utah's GOP assumed that Lee would also face a strong challenge from within his party, but that hasn't materialized either. Zions Bank CEO Scott Anderson led a recruitment effort that reached out to the likes of former Utah Govs. Jon Huntsman and Mike Leavitt, Rep. Jason Chaffetz and Josh Romney, the son of Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee. All of them declined, and since then, Anderson and Huntsman have endorsed Lee, who was first elected in 2010.