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Convention season is upon us, the time when partisans cull the independent, the weak and the ineffective from the herd.

Democrats kicked Sen. Fred Fife, a nice guy but a hapless legislator, to the curb last weekend. And Republicans dumped hard-core conservative Rep. Aaron Tilton because of his favors for a Mapleton developer and a conflict of interest on nuclear power. But GOP delegates gave a free re-election pass to charter school developer Mike Morley, who is being sued for $3 million by the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Sometimes, political ideology is all relative.

In Utah, land of the bone-deep, multigenerational GOP supermajority, the minority party takes all comers - even those who vote more like conservatives or who once were conservatives.

It's how Karen Morgan and David Hogue both call themselves Democrats.

After holding off pro-voucher challengers year after year, Hogue pasted a big red target to his forehead in 2006, left the House seat he held for 10 years and ran against Draper Republican Sen. Howard Stephenson. He lost.

Trying to run again in the GOP would have been political suicide. This year, the Democratic Party has revived his career. Hogue very publicly changed his party affiliation in March so he could run for his old seat representing Riverton and Herriman. He was surprised by the welcome.

"I've got to be able to convince people they vote for the person, not the party," Hogue says. "I told Democratic Party leadership I'm not going to change my ways. I'm still going to be a fiscal conservative, pro-life and a gun advocate. They said, 'You don't have to change a thing.' ''

Utah Democrats are nothing if not pragmatic.

Morgan's political career is a partisan mirror of Hogue's. In 2001, she watched Republican lawmakers slice and dice and mash her solidly moderate Cottonwood Heights district in with another to make it more conservative. Two years ago, she held off a wave of negative mailings from the GOP and a challenge from a pro-voucher Republican. This year, she's abandoning that campaign cycle, hoping to take over Republican Sen. Carlene Walker's district.

It's hard to draw a line between Morgan and Walker - on liquor laws, gay marriage, illegal immigration.

Brian Watkins, a one-time Democratic congressional candidate and computer programmer, compares votes in each legislative session to place Utah House members on a political spectrum. The only true-blue liberals represent Salt Lake City. On his Web site,, Morgan's Democratic rating consistently is among the lowest.

"The Democrats are slightly more democratic than the Republicans," Watkins says. "And Karen Morgan is kind of on the edge of being a Democrat and a Republican."

The most significant difference between Morgan, a former schoolteacher, and Walker, a businesswoman, is their votes on controversial education issues - particularly private school vouchers and legislation meant to shift the costs of splitting the Jordan School District onto all Salt Lake County residents. Walker voted for both; Morgan did not.

News that Morgan is a borderline Democrat won't hurt in her district. If anything, her conservative bent could help persuade Cottonwood Heights Republicans to vote for her.

"It might be easier to win an election [as a Republican], but it wouldn't be easier serving on the hill," she says. "I have the freedom to vote my conscience without fear of retaliation by party leaders."

She's going to stay a Democrat.

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