Utah Democrats won't have a candidate this year in the 3rd Congressional District, the first time such a major race hasn't had a Democratic in recent history.
Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah, is ecstatic that he has no Democratic opponent. "I'm very excited," Cannon said Tuesday night after the candidate deadline passed at 5 p.m. with no Democratic filing and Meg Holbrook, state Democratic chairwoman, looking forlorn as she answered pointed questions from reporters in the state elections office.Speaking from Cincinnati, where he awaited a connecting flight to Utah, Cannon said he wouldn't stop fund raising or campaigning.
"I'll continue to build a war chest, since that seems to discourage" candidates from running against him in the future, he said. He said he'd be active in campaigning for other GOP candidates inside and outside of Utah.
State election officials could find no evidence of a U.S. House race in Utah that didn't have at least one Republican and one Democrat. Before 1912, when U.S. senators were picked by state legislatures, some of those races had only candidates from one political party.
In 1982 Democrat Hank Huish, the party's pick, fouled up and missed the filing deadline. But Huish ran as an independent and was endorsed by the Democratic Party.
Utah is a heavily Republican state. Public opinion surveys show that about 40 percent of residents are Republicans, 20 percent claim to be Democrats and the rest are independents or favor minor parties.
Still, to go from holding the 3rd District seat in 1996 to not even fielding a candidate in 1998 is a big swing for Democrats.
Holbrook said that up until 4 p.m. Tuesday, "we had a good candidate we believed would run. But the person decided not to. I'm very disappointed. But it shows the power of trying to get someone to run against a multimillionaire."
Cannon is a millionaire who put more than $1.45 million into his 1996 race when he defeated incumbent Democratic Rep. Bill Orton. Holbrook said Orton seriously considered challenging Cannon this year.
"But his back is still hurting him badly," she said. Orton had back surgery just before the 1996 election.
Democrats also tried to get new-age composer Kurt Bestor to run and tried to get former Idaho Attorney General - now BYU law professor - Larry Echohawk in the race. Both declined.
Holbrook declined to name the Democrat who backed out at the last minute.
In races set before Tuesday's candidate filing deadline, former state Senate candidate Scott Leckman will challenge Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, and Ogden investment counselor Steve Beierlein goes after Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah in the 1st District. Democrat Christopher Woodward Clem filed in the 1st District on Monday, but Democratic leaders say Beierlein is their man.
The premier race for Democrats this year will likely be former Utah Education Association President Lily Eskelsen's challenge for freshman Republican Merrill Cook's seat in the 2nd District.
There should be no statewide or congressional primaries, however. While Cannon and Bennett have GOP opponents, they aren't considered serious contenders and the incumbents should win the GOP nominations in the state Republican convention.
"The county conventions are where the action, excitement, will be this year, not the state conventions," Holbrook said.
In Salt Lake County, Commissioner Mary Callaghan has been viewed as vulnerable within her own party, and is facing intra-party challenges from two candidates: Charles Waldo and Wendy Smith.
Commission Chairman Brent Overson has thrown his support behind Smith. He and Callaghan have not seen eye-to-eye on changing county government, raising taxes, relaxing billboard restrictions, which lobbying firm to hire . . . in fact, just about every major issue to come before the commission recently.
Eleven of the 12 county elected officials are up for grabs this year. All incumbents except Commissioner Randy Horiuchi are seeking re-election, and his seat has the most candidates filing - eight. In that race, commission chief of staff David Marshall (a Republican) has the support of Overson, while Horiuchi has endorsed deputy director of public works Mike Reberg (a Democrat).
Democrats have a contest in that race, former commission candidate Paulina Flint filed against Reberg Tuesday night.
County offices are currently dominated by Republicans (only two - Horiuchi and County Clerk Sherrie Swensen - are Democrats). County Democratic Party Chairman Joseph Hatch says Republicans have blown their chance, and that it's time for the Democrats to take over. Hatch says he's proud that of 31 legislative House seats in the county, there are Democratic candidates in 30.
The commission recently voted to consolidate the offices of county attorney and district attorney, in part to punish County Attorney Doug Short, who has become locally famous for his battles with the commission. Short decided against running for the consolidated attorney office, and did not follow through on earlier statements that he would run for a commission seat.
District Attorney Neal Gunnarson, a Republican, is up for the consolidated office. His most prominent challenger is former county district attorney David Yocom, a Democrat.