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Utah Democratic candidates trying to woo GOP voters

Published: Saturday, July 4 2015 2:59 a.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) 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.

Democratic congressional candidate Jay Seegmiller talks about his political ideas at the state Democratic convention in Salt Lake City, Saturday, April 21, 2012. (Brian Nicholson, Deseret News) Democratic congressional candidate Jay Seegmiller talks about his political ideas at the state Democratic convention in Salt Lake City, Saturday, April 21, 2012. (Brian Nicholson, Deseret News)

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.

Ben McAdams speaks as Ben McAdams speaks as "Republicans for Ben McAdams" hold a press conference on a median in the road in Murray, Wednesday, July 25, 2012. (Ravell Call, Deseret News)

"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.

Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Scott Howell. (, ) Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Scott Howell. (, )

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.

"My strategy is to be able for them to feel comfortable enough as an independent to switch over. I think sometimes people try to make it too much of a gimmick," he said. "You have to have issues that people believe in."

Utah Democratic Party Chairman Jim Dabakis, says the GOP has left mainstream Republicans, noting tea party members found former Sen. Bob Bennett too liberal.

"The Republicans have shifted dramatically off the edge of the cliff, so that's been helpful," he said.

Wright said the tea party didn't have much influence this year, noting the GOP had its most mainstream group of delegates at the state convention in a long time. It's Democrats, he said, who are being disenfranchised with a slate of candidates that don't stand up for their party's platform.

Howell, Cooke, McAdams and Seegmiler consider themselves moderates, and Dabakis said he hasn't gotten any pushback on them from more liberal party members.

"We certainly haven't found any hesitancy toward those kind of high-caliber candidates as our standard bearers," he said.

Dabakis also has made a concerted effort to attract Mormon Republicans, who he says the GOP has too long taken for granted. The fledgling LDS Dems caucus has grown dramatically since its inception last fall, now approaching 2,000 members.

At the LDS Dems meeting during the state Democratic convention in April, all former Republicans were asked to stand. Crystal Young-Otterstrom estimated 80 percent stood.

"It certainly was a shock to see so many of us standing," said the one-time Republican and now LDS Dems chair.

Dabakis said the effort is as much about reaching out to LDS people as it is Republicans. "We just want to create a tent in the Democratic Party in Utah and nationally that LDS people can feel comfortable in."

E-mail: romboy@desnews.com

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