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Democratic state Sen. Luz Robles will challenge Republican U.S. Rep. Chris Stewart for the state's 2nd Congressional District seat, saying Utahns are tired of gridlock in Washington and want a change.
"I think we can do better and I think there is the potential to bring different voices and representation and bring more of what Utah is all about and the working class in Utah is all about," Robles said Friday in an interview. "I think my record speaks for itself in the Legislature. I'm very much in the middle. I focus on issues of veterans, immigration and education that are pertinent to all Americans."
Robles plans to officially kick off her campaign at an event at the Capitol next week.
But Robles will have her work cut out for her if she intends to unseat Stewart. The 2nd District is heavily Republican, with an 18-percentage point tilt toward GOP voters, according to an analysis by the Cook Political Report.
But Robles said that through targeting residents who don't vote and getting them registered and to the polls and by raising $1 million for her campaign she believes she can have a shot at winning the seat.
"I think there is that opportunity for motivating people," she said. "If you look at the district, there are pockets in the district that will align with someone like me and my background and what I'm doing."
Stewart, an author and former pilot won his first term by easily beating his Democratic opponent, former state Rep. Jay Seegmiller, 62 percent to 34 percent. He said in a statement that he looks forward to a debate on the direction of the country.
"This is a critical time in our nation's history and I am proud to run on my record," he said. "Utah residents are looking for conservative leadership to solve very critical problems. l look forward to having Senator Robles join this important debate."
Ryan McCoy, Stewart's campaign manager, said the 2nd District is "a conservative district that deserves to be represented by a strong, conservative leader."
He said the congressman plans to run on his vision of "a smaller, more responsive federal government."
Robles said she has some concerns about statements Stewart has made challenging climate-change science and on immigration issues, but her larger goal is to change the dysfunction in Washington and show how elected officials have been able to work together in Utah, regardless of party.
Matthew Burbank, a political science professor at the University of Utah, said Robles is a strong candidate for Democrats and could attract attention and resources to the race. Generally, he said, the first re-election is the hardest for candidates, but the dynamics of the district favor Stewart.
"Realistically, any Democrat is going to face this problem," Burbank said. "It is a Republican-leaning district, and I think Stewart is a strong candidate. But he also is somebody who could realistically be defeated if the circumstances of the election are right and she does her job fundraising and getting some enthusiasm."
Robles won re-election to the Utah Senate in her northwest Salt Lake district last year and won't be up for re-election until 2016, meaning she won't have to give up her Senate seat.
She is the only Latina in the state Senate. She currently works as a vice president at Zions Bank.