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Democrats have one main wish for Utah's 89 legislative races this year, one that Republicans would love to squash.
"It's critical for Democrats to win a seat outside of Salt Lake County. We don't want to be known as the Salt Lake Democratic Party," says Peter Corroon, state party chairman. "We want to be known as the Utah Democratic Party."
Democrats two years ago lost their last such seat their lone Fort Apache in rural GOP territory in a rural district that covers parts of Carbon, Duchesne, Emery and Grand counties.
Corroon says the minority party has a chance this year to win it back, and maybe a few others. At the same time, he acknowledges some tough fights threaten Democratic seats in its lone stronghold of Salt Lake County, where Corroon used to be mayor.
Overall, Corroon says, Democrats hope to pick up a few legislative seats this election. That is a modest goal for a party on the short end of massive GOP legislative majorities 24-5 in the Senate and 61-14 in the House.
Utah Republican Party Chairman James Evans declined to talk about which races his party sees as key, or even which ones it sees as close. "All of our seats are our targeted seats," he says. "So we are pouring everything into every seat."
When asked if he expects to pick up or lose seats, he says simply, "I think we will have a very good year."
Evans also declined to talk about GOP strategy in the legislative elections. He says if he did that, "I might as well just pick up the phone and call the Democrat Party and talk to them about it."
But Corroon outlined why he expects some Democratic pickups.
Democratic outlook • "2010 was a big tea-party year. In 2012, Mitt Romney was on the ballot, and Republicans had the Romney tsunami," Corroon says. "But this year we see a lot of anti-incumbent sentiment." Most incumbents in Utah are Republican.
"We have been making a big push promoting LDS Democrats, and are making an outreach into the Latino community," Corroon says. Democrats also have 29 women candidates running, plus many minorities, and the party hopes those efforts and registration drives will help their cause.
Still, only a dozen or so legislative races generally are considered competitive among the 89 contested this year. Meanwhile, 12 seats are unopposed 10 for Republicans and two for Democrats. In another three, Republicans face opposition only from minor party candidates.
Following is a look at some key races:
House District 69 • Two years ago, Democrats lost this, their last non-Salt Lake County district. It covers parts of Carbon and Emery counties coal mining areas that are traditionally Democratic and parts of Duchesne and Grand counties, which are more Republican.
Republican Jerry Anderson defeated incumbent Democratic Rep. Christine Watkins in 2012. She then switched to become a Republican and challenged Anderson in this year's GOP state convention. But both were defeated by newcomer Republican Bill Labrum, a Roosevelt car dealer.
Even though Labrum has defeated two former legislators so far this year, he now faces a third: Democrat Brad King, who lives in Price and served in the Legislature for 12 years and is the former House minority leader.
"I like challenges," Labrum says about taking on such experienced rivals. He says he is stressing his business background and vows to work to improve rural economies throughout the large district.
"I come from the majority party," Labrum says, "and am more apt to get something done in the House to help the area than someone in the minority party."
Meanwhile, King emphasizes his experience in the Legislature.
"With dwindling representation for rural Utah, I have a lot of legislative experience. And that would be helpful to our area," King says. The former lawmaker says he was successful previously in pushing improvements on U.S. Highway 6, and similar help is needed again for it, as well as for U.S. 40, U.S. 191 and other key highways.
House District 30 • This West Valley City district is expected to be perhaps the closest of all House races as voters choose a replacement for retiring Democratic Rep. Janice Fisher. "It is maybe the one true swing district in the state," says former Rep. Fred Cox, who is seeking his old seat.
Two years ago, Fisher beat Cox when they were redistricted into the same area. She won by 356 votes. This year, Cox faces Democrat Mike Lee, a police officer who happens to have the same name as Utah's ultraconservative U.S. senator.
In an unusual and expensive move for a legislative race, Lee has a TV ad featuring former Utah Jazz coach Frank Layden. In it, Layden is surprised to hear that Mike Lee favors increased funding for education.
"Is that the same Mike Lee that supports the tea party?" Layden asks. "Is that the same Mike Lee that wants to shut the government down?"
Layden is told it is another Mike Lee. "Oh, the tall handsome guy. And he's smart," Layden says.
Lee says he believes some Republican voters may accidentally vote for him thinking he is the U.S. senator, but also thinks that will be canceled out by some Democrats who vote against him for the same reason.
Lee has raised about $33,000, compared to $9,800 by Cox. But Cox says he has high name recognition from his previous service, and has been campaigning hard door to door.
Lee, an AFL-CIO vice president, has been campaigning to bring higher-wage jobs to Utah and help public-sector employees have a living wage. Cox, an architect, has pushed improving education including bringing more money to classrooms, but perhaps cutting spending on administration or avoiding some too-expensive features in new buildings.
Other West Valley districts • Corroon sees opportunity for Democratic pickups in two other West Valley City districts a House seat now held by freshman GOP Rep. Craig Hall and a Senate seat held by freshman GOP Sen. Daniel Thatcher. But he says a close race threatens a seat now held by Democratic Rep. Larry Wiley.
Hall faces a rematch with Democrat Liz Muniz, whom he beat by a 53 percent to 47 percent margin two years ago.
"In the short time I have served, I have proven to be an effective voice for West Valley City," says Hall, an attorney, who is running billboard ads among other campaigning. "I have received pretty broad support across party lines from people who recognize that I am more interested in finding solutions" than partisan credit.
Muniz, a housing authority employee, says she focuses on representing "hardworking families that are having a hard time making ends meet, even when both parents are working." She argues she could be a voice to represent minorities and the concerns of people earning low wages.
In the Senate race that includes parts of West Valley City, West Jordan, Magna and Tooele County, Thatcher says he does not believe the contest is close and that he has a big lead. But Democrat Clare Collard has outraised him, $51,139 to $27,976.
Thatcher, a construction worker, says, "I am the only member of the Legislature who wears a tool belt to work." He campaigns on being able to represent the views of working families.
Collard similarly says she is campaigning to help "families that are concerned with keeping their kitchens full, finding a good job and retiring with dignity." She also stresses her community work, including serving on the Salt Lake County Planning Commission.
Wiley won re-election two years ago by a slim 77 votes over Republican Fred Johnson. This year, he takes on Sophia DiCaro, former deputy director of the Governor's Office of Economic Development.
DiCaro has raised more money than Wiley, $54,594 to $39,682.
Weber County • Corroon says Democrats are competitive and hope to gain seats in Weber County now held by GOP Reps. Justin Fawson, Dixon Pitcher and Jeremy Peterson.
Fawson, a former North Ogden City Council member, was appointed this year to the House after Rep. Ryan Wilcox resigned. He faces an attorney, Democrat Camille Neider. They have been nearly even in fundraising.
A battleground issue between them has been whether to support Common Core standards in education. Fawson has said that would harm local control of schools, while Neider says it would not and that local schools still control curriculum.
Neider is in a gay marriage and says while that's no secret, her opponent's supporters "want to make sure that no one forgets it."
Fawson says he is a "strong supporter of traditional family values, and obviously we disagree" on gay marriage.
Pitcher, owner of a sports store, is being challenged by Democrat Eric Irvine.
"I am more of a bulldog-type leader as a retired police officer," Irvine says. "I am more active and would fight harder" for the area.
Pitcher did not return phone calls.
Peterson, a real-estate broker, is being challenged by engineer Steve Olsen.
Olsen says he would bring a different view to the Legislature as an engineer. "I've used data for 35 years to solve real-life problems," he says. "I think a lot of legislation is passed by a gut feeling rather than real evidence."
Peterson says a main difference is that his opponent "believes tax rates should be higher, and I don't think that's the case."
Senate District 4 • Democrats are fighting to hold this east-side Salt Lake County district, where Sen. Pat Jones, D-Holladay, is retiring.
Democrat Jani Iwamoto, a former Salt Lake County Council member, has raised a huge $90,667 compared to a respectable $39,444 by Republican Sabrina Petersen, a Holladay City Council member.
Iwamoto says because she has represented the area previously on the County Council, "people know me, and I know them. I will represent them well."
Petersen has been canvassing neighborhoods and says she also knows the area from her city service.
"I've been amazed at how many people are surprised to see me on their doorstep," she says. "I have several who just said, 'Wow, it's you in the flesh.' "
Other races • The list of other races generally seen as competitive is relatively short. They include:
House District 54 • Incumbent Rep. Kraig Powell, R-Heber City, faces Democrat Glenn Wright, of Park City. Wright has collected $21,045, while Powell has raised $8,360. The Summit County section of the district leans Democratic, while Wasatch County tilts Republican.
House District 34 • Incumbent Rep. Johnny Anderson, R-Taylorsville, has amassed a huge $86,744. But Democratic challenger Karen Kwan has raised a respectable $37,253.
House District 38 • Rep. Eric Hutchings, R-Kearns, who once was a Democrat but switched parties, has raised $18,203. Democrat Chrystal Butterfield has gathered $4,986.