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When David fought Goliath, no other Israelites tried to wrestle him for that scary privilege. But two Utah Democrats are waging a spirited primary election battle to see who will face the political giant of the 1st Congressional District: Republican Rep. Rob Bishop.
Donna McAleer and Ryan Combe offer different approaches that each says can beat five-term incumbent Bishop who has never faced a close congressional race, who won with 69 percent of the vote two years ago and who now enjoys a newly redrawn district that both parties say is 72 percent GOP.
Combe is stressing his deep northern Utah roots, which he says can help draw LDS Church members to his side and reach beyond Democrats to Republicans. McAleer says she can rally others with leadership skills to end congressional gridlock as a West Point graduate who came to Park City to bobsled (just missing the Olympic team) and who has been successful in business.
"Everyone knows that it's a mountain to beat Bishop. But I truly believe he can be beaten," says Combe (pronounced comb-bee), 30, of Ogden, who stresses that he is a sixth-generation resident of northern Utah.
"The Combe name is more recognizable than Bishop in Weber County. It's hugely important to have someone with a strong base in Weber County because you are looking at 50 percent of the [district's] vote," Combe says. Bishop lives in Box Elder County. McAleer lives near Park City.
"It's very rare that I ever introduce myself to someone without them saying, 'Oh, like Combe Road or Combe Dairy … ' It's a name with a lot of history," Combe says, noting his father is running for the Weber County Commission. "With deep roots in northern Utah, it puts me in a unique position to represent the people well. I know them. I know their stories."
Combe says he likes to explain how his LDS beliefs mesh with his Democratic philosophy, which he says helps attract some Republicans who are tired of Utah's one-party rule. He speaks Spanish, learned as an LDS missionary in Argentina, and says he uses that to reach out to Latino citizens he says too rarely vote and feel underrepresented. He also brings business background including starting a frozen yogurt company that was franchised internationally before he sold it; acting as a business consultant now; and working for Weber State University as director of marketing and member relations for its alumni association.
"He's running on his heritage," says McAleer, 46. "He's running on who his family is, and where he lives. We need people who can lead.... I am a person of action. I have sought out every challenge," which she says makes her able to work with people of all backgrounds.
Her mother was a Hungarian immigrant. McAleer graduated from West Point and was elected class president. She served in the Army, including several years in Germany at the end of the Cold War. She later ran the global division of the GenRad tech company.
She came to Park City seeking to make the U.S. bobsled team for the 2002 Olympics but finished fourth in the U.S. trials and just missed the team. She then directed, and says she turned around, the People's Health Clinic. When she felt that high school girls she helped coach needed more positive role models, she wrote a book about women at West Point and their careers afterward.
"I've lived around the world. I've lived around the country. I bring a broad perspective," she says, adding that she and her family are "Americans by birth, but Utahns by choice."
The challenge is large for McAleer and Combe to gain votes, or even attention, against Bishop in an overwhelmingly Republican district.
During the first of a series of four planned debates between the pair held Monday in Park City the most Democratic part of the 1st District only about 100 people attended, not enough to make much of a dent in a district of 691,000 people.
Still, Combe says their June 26 primary is actually helping the pair gain some extra attention "more than we would have otherwise. It has put us on TV and radio interviews. I wouldn't be having this interview now without it," he says.
But McAleer sees that as a two-edged sword. "It also takes a lot of resources away from the general election" and the eventual fight against Bishop, she says. "And he has a lot more money."
Donna McAleer and Ryan Combe have two debates scheduled:
• Saturday, 9:30 a.m., Granny Annie's restaurant (286 N. 400 West, Kaysville)
• June 14 at 5 p.m., Cache County Courthouse in Logan, 199 N. Main St.