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Will Utah Democrats' focus shift to 'bread-and-butter' issues?

Published: Sunday, April 6 2014 11:45 a.m. MDT

That may have been appreciated by many Democrats, Webb sad, "but at the same time, it alienated a lot of the more mainstream Utahns and probably made it harder to win their votes."

BYU political science professor Richard Davis, a former Utah County Democratic Party chairman who is also running to replace Dabakis, agreed that voters have been turned off.

"In order for the Democratic Party to win, most voters — and we know most are LDS voters — need to feel comfortable again that the Democratic Party expresses their values," said Davis, a columnist for the Deseret News.

And, he said, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as well as other religions, are not comfortable with the party's focus on same-sex marriage under Dabakis.

"It is not a position shared by most Utahns," Davis said. "It also confuses people. When they think of Democrats, they think of same-sex marriage when what they ought to be thinking of is Democrats are for education."

Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams said he and other Democrats need to find common ground on same-sex marriage. The party, he said, has a valuable role to play if it can bring Utahns together on the issue.

"We've got to find a way to afford individuals equal treatment under the law and also preserve and protect religious freedoms," the mayor said. "I don't know what that is right now."

McAdams said the state party needs to emphasize "issues that we stand for that reflect Utah values," including strengthening schools, improving air quality and looking out for the disadvantaged.

Utah voters, he said, are "tired of politics being us versus them" and want candidates willing to work across party lines.

"The more we get away from the partisan divide and focus on building bridges is the future of the Democratic Party," McAdams said.

In his 2012 race, McAdams said he won with 55 percent of the vote in Salt Lake County while President Barack Obama, a Democrat, received less than 40 percent of the vote.

"That's been imprinted on my mind," said McAdams, who briefly considered running for Matheson's 4th District seat. "The Democratic base got me 40 percent but did not get me a win. … I've got to represent a broader coalition."

Matheson, who has won seven terms in the U.S. House by appealing to Republican and independent voters, said the circumstances of the Democratic Party in Utah haven't changed for a long time.

"Let's not kid ourselves," said Matheson, the son of the state's last Democratic governor, the late Scott Matheson, who served from 1977 to 1985. "Even when my dad was in office, it was a Republican state."

He said Democrats have good candidates on the ballot this year, including Doug Owens, son of late former Utah Rep. Wayne Owens, a Democrat who won his last election in 1990.

But Utah Democrats have a hard time even getting their foot in the door with voters, Matheson said. He had to fight challenges from the progressive wing of his own party over the years, as well as from the right.

"I just hope the electorate gives them a fair shake," Matheson said. "There's no magic formula here that's going to turn things around for the Utah Democratic Party. There's no secret that's going to make it happen."

Corroon, who was soundly defeated by GOP Gov. Gary Herbert in 2010 despite a hard-fought and well-financed race, said he now knows what it takes to appeal to voters statewide.

"I learned it ain't easy being a Democrat in Utah," said Corroon, a real-estate developer.

"What I realized is the citizens of Utah generally support the same issues that Democrats support and are pushing. For whatever reason, that message hasn't necessarily been properly delivered or received well."

Email: lisa@deseretnews.com

Twitter: DNewsPolitics

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