Utah Democratic candidates trying to woo GOP voters

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 8 2012 7:00 p.m. MDT

Candidate for governor Peter Cooke talks with an attendee at the state Democratic convention in Salt Lake City Saturday, Abril 21, 2012.

Brian Nicholson, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Republicans, beware: Democrats want you to want them.

It's no cheap trick. Utah Democrats said they offer moderate alternatives for traditionally Republican voters, especially those who may be disenchanted with the GOP's hard-to-the-right tea party drift.

Democrats have long known that they need to pull Republicans their way to have any shot of winning an election in the overwhelmingly red Beehive State. And this year Utah's minority party candidates appear to be courting Republicans more overtly than in years past.

"We're very actively asking Republicans to vote for me," said state Sen. Ben McAdams, D-Salt Lake.

Supporters created a Facebook page called "Republicans for Ben" to help his quest for the Salt Lake County mayor's job. The site even includes a GOP elephant painted blue and orange to reflect McAdams' campaign colors rather than the customary red, white and blue, a move Utah GOP Chairman Thomas Wright says amounts to intellectual property theft and should be removed.

McAdams recently held a press conference with several Republican and independent mayors to show their support. They gathered in the median on a Murray street as a symbolic bipartisan gesture.

He and Republican Mark Crockett, a former Salt Lake County councilman, are vying to replace Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon, who isn't seeking re-election.

"Certainly, winning crossover support is important in Utah," McAdams said.

A Deseret News/KSL statewide poll this summer asked respondents about their political affiliation. The results showed 48 percent are Republican, 16 percent Democrat and 31 percent independent.

Wright says Democrats are running candidates who don't espouse their own party's platform and who are just trying to see how they can fit into the GOP.

"Republicans don't fall for that. The Republican Party in this state is as astute as it's ever been," he said.

Democrat Jay Seegmiller, too, is zeroing in on Republican voters in his race against Chris Stewart in the 2nd Congressional District.

Seegmiller's campaign used GOP state delegate lists to target invitees to a breakfast last weekend in St. George. About 50 to 60 people showed up, including some he identified as tea party types.

"In this race, we've gotten a pretty clear message from a lot of the Republicans that we've been talking to that they're not particularly enamored with their nominee, so we are reaching out to get them to take a look at us," he said.

Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Scott Howell said he has been courting Republicans his entire life starting with his wife. And now that he has won her over, she's hitting the campaign trail for him in his bid to unseat six-term GOP Sen. Orrin Hatch.

Linda Howell and Heather Cooke, wife of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Peter Cooke, plan to visit all 29 counties. Scott Howell said he wife would particularly try to reach Republican women. Cooke said his wife also is a Republican.

Howell, a former Utah Senate minority leader, said about half his campaign staff and volunteers are Republicans. He said his campaign is about working with both parties.

"I've made it very clear from the very beginning that for me, personally, it's a day where we work with the president. If it's President Obama or Gov. Romney, we will work together. We'll work to change what's going on back there, especially ending the gridlock," he said.

Cooke said he's focusing on independents and asking voters to look at the person, not the party. He said he's running into people who say they haven't voted Democratic for a long time but are considering him.

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