Non-Democrat dominates Utah Democratic caucus meetings

Some Democrats want the party to back Evan McMullin in the U.S. Senate race, but that means throwing out a Democrat in the race.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) About 75 people from Salt Lake City, South Salt Lake and Millcreek ridings attended the Democratic Party’s Neighborhood Caucus Party at Nibley Park School on March 22, 2022.

Tuesday night was the turn of Utah Democrats to hold neighborhood caucus meetings. Unlike Republicans who held in-person meetings last Tuesday, Democrats used a mix of in-person and online meetings.

An in-person location was HD32 at Nibley Park School in South Salt Lake, where about 100 Democrats, more or less, gathered around cafeteria tables to hear from candidates and choose delegates to county and state conventions. state this year.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Sen. Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake City, shakes hands with John Bennion during the Democratic Party’s Neighborhood Caucus Party at Nibley Park School on March 22, 2022.

Much like the lower-than-expected turnout in many Republican caucuses, turnout Tuesday night wasn’t as robust as it has been in other years. Will Kocher, legislative chairman of HD32, says he’s not surprised the numbers are a bit lighter.

“It’s a low year for elections, and maybe some people are still hesitant to come to a public meeting with a pandemic still going on,” Kocher said. He noted there was an option for Democrats to file and run for party office online, and many took advantage of the virtual opportunity.

Tom DeSirant, executive director of the Utah Democratic Party, said there were encouraging signs for the party on Tuesday.

“We’ve seen a lot of growth in parts of the state where we wouldn’t see a ton of Democrats. Utah County ran out of supplies in both of our caucuses because turnout was higher than expected,” DeSirant said.

DeSirant added that about half of the parties in their county have used the option of holding caucus meetings online.

“Rural counties have resumed online meetings. It helps in places like Dagget County with just 863 registered Democrats or Kane County where there’s a four-hour round trip from one side of the county to the other,” DeSirant said.

There was a distinct change in tone from the GOP caucus meetings earlier this month. For Republicans, the bread-and-butter issues were the Constitution, election integrity, and anger over hidden mandates. For Democrats, the discussion focused on the environment, workers’ rights and justice. Consider switching from Lee Greenwood to Indigo Girls on your Spotify playlist.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Members of Salt Lake City Precinct 123 listen to House District 32 candidate Eric Biggart, right, during the Democratic Party’s Neighborhood Caucus Party at the Nibley Park School on March 22, 2022.

Eric Biggart, one of two candidates vying for the vacant HD32 seat, was candid when addressing the caucuses.

“We have a numbers problem. For every Democrat on the Hill, there are four Republicans. We have to work four times harder,” Biggart said.

He’s not wrong. Democrats are essentially one-third in Beehive State. Republicans and independent voters outnumber them. There are nearly 3.5 registered GOP voters for every Democrat and more than two unaffiliated voters for every party member.

While there will be contested races for Democrats this year, the most important decision delegates will face involves a candidate who is not a registered member of the party.

Utah Democrats aren’t used to having a potential impact on a U.S. Senate race. That would likely force them to drop Democrat Kael Weston and back independent candidate Evan McMullin, in hopes of defeating incumbent Mike Lee. McMullin is definitely not a Democrat.

McMullin’s dilemma is already driving a deep divide in the state’s minority party. On Saturday, the Democratic Central Committee spent more than three hours mulling over rules for the upcoming state convention.

Such a change pushed by Weston supporters is designed to prevent delegates from withholding the nomination. It puts all unopposed candidates on a single list for a positive or negative vote.

Former Rep. Ben McAdams, who backs the McMullin scheme, decried the change, saying it was delegating the railroads without giving them a choice.

“I think it’s appropriate to let the delegates decide. It is not democratic for us to deprive ourselves of this choice by a sleight of hand. Just because one side doesn’t believe their nominee can get convention support, they want to take the choice away from them,” McAdams said.

This change will do little to prevent a fight over the US Senate race. It can be overruled by a successful motion to separate individual races from the slate.

Will it work? That’s what the delegates will have to decide. Nicholas Mitchell, a first-time congressional candidate in CD2, said he was not inclined to support an independent candidate and hoped delegates would take the same position.

“The Democratic Party must vote for Democratic candidates. As a party, we must support people who defend democratic values. I am firmly behind Kael, and he knows it,” Mitchell said.

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