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The earliest election returns showed a Democratic rout throughout Salt Lake County.

It didn't hold, but Republicans sure took note of the early voting results.

For the first time, voters Tuesday could cast their ballots in the two weeks before the polls opened. Those who took advantage of early voting clearly favored Democrats in just about every race from the U.S. Senate to the county recorder, leaving Republicans perplexed.

"The Democratic Party clearly outstrategized or outworked us on that early voting," said House Speaker Greg Curtis.

His Democratic opponent, Jay Seegmiller, enjoyed a 60 percent to 40 percent advantage when the early voting totals were released.

"I was playing catch-up all night," Curtis said. "And it almost paid off for them."

Curtis pulled out the tight race by a mere 46 votes and now he wants the Republicans to re-examine their early voting strategy.

Republican Executive Director Jeff Hartley said he tracked the party affiliation of early voters and found that Republicans outnumbered Democrats, but unaffiliated voters were still the largest group.

Hartley was shocked when the county clerk released the results of the 31,000 early votes just a half hour after polls closed.

"I don't know if they orchestrated that," he said. "I know this, nationwide Democrats were excited and energized to vote."

Democratic Executive Director Todd Taylor said the early voting result was no fluke and was not just a result of Democratic success nationwide.

"We worked hard to get people out and earn their trust," he said.

But other prominent Democrats, such as House Minority Leader Ralph Becker and Pat Jones, a representative who was just elected to a Senate seat, said they knew of no specific early voting strategy.

Taylor promises there was one and he won't give details.

While the early voting success didn't translate into major victories, Taylor said it did meet two of their goals. Getting Democrats to vote early helped avoid backlash from any last-minute negative attacks and allowed Democrats to conduct a prolonged get-out-the-vote-campaign, instead of just a last-minute rush.

State lawmakers initiated early voting to ease the burden on clerks who worried they did not have enough new touch-screen voting machines to meet the demand.

Lawmakers were assured that early voters would be highly partisan, politically active people who would have voted anyway. But no one expected one party to dominate the early votes.

Jeff Hatch, a Democrat who ran for Salt Lake County auditor, said his party "really worked" on early voting turnout.

"We apparently succeeded," Hatch said. "We looked like heroes all night until the counts balanced out with the last few precincts."

Indeed, Hatch leapt to a double-digit lead against incumbent Republican auditor Sean Thomas when early voting results were posted just after 8:30 p.m. By midnight, Hatch's lead had vanished and he eventually lost by 344 votes. A recount likely looms.

Out of 55 congressional, legislative or county races, Democrats held the early voting lead in all but 10, and in five of those races Democrats did not field a candidate. Out of those 45 races where Democrats held an early voting lead, they ended up losing 17.