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A lonely place for Demos

Published: Sunday, Nov. 5 2006 12:00 a.m. MST

PROVO — If 22 people gather in a room in Utah County, how many are Republicans, and how many are Democrats?

Well, you better drop the plural from Democrat.

Round up 22 Utah County residents registered to vote in Tuesday's election and — on average — you'd find 11 Republicans, 10 unaffiliated voters and a single Democrat.

Yes, even the unaffiliateds outnumber Democrats 10 to 1 in Utah County, and most of the unaffiliated vote Republican. No wonder the Utah County delegation to the state Legislature is made up entirely of Republicans, with one possible exception.

Republicans enjoy enough leeway in an area where a slim 4 percent of voters are registered Democrats that some move to the extreme right. The phenomenon also pulls Democrats to the center in a quest for relevance, though they aren't sure many notice.

Republicans use this to their advantage. For example, a billboard on I-15 in Provo has a simple, clever message: "Vote your values. Vote Republican."

"It turns my stomach," said Bethanie Newby, a Democrat running against Rep. Margaret Dayton, R-Provo, in Senate District 15. "I support the LDS Church stand on abortion and she supports the Utah state Republican Party stand on abortion, which is more conservative. I support more spending on education. Marriage should be between one man and one woman of legal age."

Candidates Newby, Adam Ford in Senate District 11 and Ken Peay in House District 64 are all members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and graduates of Brigham Young University. Ford calls himself "a stereotypical Utah Mormon."

Religion clearly plays a role in the Republican dominance of a county where 88 percent of residents are LDS. The church appears to be subtly encouraging less single-party singlemindedness. The First Presidency declared in a letter earlier this year that principles compatible with the faith are "found in the platforms of all major political parties."

Socially conservative Democrats are the right candidates for the party to run in Utah County, BYU political science professor Quin Monson said.

"They must be moderate to conservative on social issues," he said. "In the long-term, they can start to change the image of their party in the minds of Utah County voters. If they continue to run reasonably credible candidates who are moderate to conservative on social issues, sooner or later a Republican will self-destruct in a race. Eventually one will stumble, and if the Democrats have a credible candidate on the ballot, they may break through."

They also may get crushed on Election Day, which makes life hard on Todd Taylor, who has been recruiting candidates for more than a decade as executive director of the state Democratic Party. He said election results in Utah County generally wind up 80 percent Republican to 20 percent Democrat.

"Over the past few elections, the best performance of any Democrat is 33 or 34 percent," he added. "There's a lot to be said for the courage of those few who will step up."

In 2004, David Bonner earned 31 percent of the vote in House District 56 against incumbent Republican David Cox. Cox lost his seat this summer during the Republican primary.

So, who is the last Democrat to win an election in Utah County? The answer is Tim Moran, a dozen years ago, in 1994.

And by how much did he win? By an edge-of-your-seats 30 votes, of course.

Now 88, Moran still lives in Spanish Fork. He served six terms in House District 66 and chose not to seek re-election in 1996. Moran and Utah County's only other elected Democrat at the time, state Sen. Eldon Money, left office together at the start of 1997.

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