SALT LAKE CITY — Thirty years ago, when Utahns last elected a Democratic governor, they also voted in a Republican lieutenant governor.
Of course, the friction between Gov. Scott Matheson and Lt. Gov. Dave Monson helped force a change in the state constitution so governors and lieutenant governors no longer run separately.
But that history didn't stop Democratic gubernatorial candidate and Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon from naming a Republican running mate on Monday, the first time a major party has offered a bipartisan ticket in Utah.
Corroon spent the day traveling the state with his pick for lieutenant governor, Rep. Sheryl Allen, R-Bountiful. Allen, a moderate who faced conservative challengers from within the GOP, had already decided not to seek a ninth term in the Legislature.
The pair hugged during their first public appearance together, at a midmorning announcement held outside Washington Elementary School on the city's west side.
Corroon said his chief campaign issues — education, the economy, quality of life and more efficient government — don't belong to any one party.
"They are Utah issues. They are Utah values," he said. "Utah needs independent leaders."
And a Democrat who wants to win a statewide race in Republican-dominated Utah needs independent voters. Observers say Corroon's choice of a candidate outside his party is an effort to win over Utahns who aren't comfortable voting Democratic.
GOP Gov. Gary Herbert is widening his lead over Corroon, a new Deseret News/KSL-TV poll found. But Corroon is much closer to his expected Republican opponent among registered voters who consider themselves independents.
Corroon had the support of 32 percent of those independent voters statewide, compared to 39 percent for Herbert. And among the voters who labeled their political ideology moderate, Corroon bested Herbert 50 percent to 25 percent.
The statewide poll was conducted April 27-28, before Corroon announced his running mate, by Dan Jones & Associates. Pollster Dan Jones said the so-called swing voters need a reason to go to the polls, and being able to vote for a bipartisan ticket could give them just that.
"If the Corroon campaign was trying to bring an element of surprise and excitement, and seize the moment, I think they were successful," said Jones, who does polling for Herbert. "Maybe this is a thing that will really help."
Kelly Patterson, head of BYU's Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy, agreed Allen could boost the Democratic ticket's credibility with moderate GOP voters.
"If you don't do well among them," Patterson said, "you don't have much of a chance."
And finding a Democratic running mate "who's visible, credible and experienced" can be tough, he said. "There just aren't as many of those as there are Republicans."
Corroon, who reportedly made the offer to Allen on Saturday after meeting with her several times last week, had talked about the job with a number of Republicans, as well as Democrats, some suggested by members of the public.
The campaign's shortlist included Senate Minority Leader Pat Jones, D-Holladay, president of Dan Jones & Associates; and Ned Hill, the former dean of BYU's Marriott School of Management.
Kirk Jowers, head of the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics and an adviser to Herbert, wasn't so sure Corroon's choice of Allen will have lasting impact.
"Choosing a Republican is immediately interesting and seems in theory like a good idea for a party that is struggling so much, but in reality, I don't think Rep. Allen was the home run he was looking for," Jowers said.
He noted that Allen was retiring from the Legislature, after being involved behind the scenes in controversial ethics charges against a fellow Republican in 2008 that ostracized her from many in the party.
Now that she's campaigning with a Democrat, there's some question whether she'll be allowed to continue to caucus with Republicans for the remaining months of her term in the Legislature.
Allen said that within the GOP, "the voices have been a little shrill lately. We want to give a different tone to the campaign." She downplayed running against a Republican ticket.
"We have intra-party fights all the time. This is taking it to a general election," Allen said. "It's part of the process. It's healthy, and I'm pleased to be part of what I hope is a new trend."
Allen said she'll attend this Saturday's Democratic convention. Both parties are holding their state conventions on the same day, and in the same place, the Salt Palace Convention Center.
Wayne Holland, head of the state Democratic Party, said Allen has long been at the top of the list of GOP allies in the Legislature on education and other key issues.
"Look at what's been going on in the Republican Party. They're being held hostage by extremists," Holland said. "Voters can feel the Democratic ticket is a place where they can comfortably go in the November election."
State GOP Chairman Dave Hansen said he respects Allen and still considers her a Republican.
"She is what she says she is," Hansen said. "We are still a big-tent party. We have conservatives, yes, but we have moderates and even a few liberals."
Still, Hansen said, "the Republican Party is the conservative party in Utah. Our platform, our candidates, reflect conservative values, especially being fiscally conservative."
Herbert's campaign manager, Joseph Demma, said he looks "forward to a good, strong campaign" against a fellow Republican. Demma made note of the similarities between Allen and Herbert's own pick for lieutenant governor, former Fruit Heights state senator Greg Bell, a moderate member of GOP leadership.
"We have always thought the idea of having a Republican lieutenant governor from Davis County was the right way to go," Demma said.
Corroon and Herbert are running for the remainder of former Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.'s term. Huntsman resigned last August to become U.S. ambassador to China.
Sheryl L. Allen
Political offices: State representative, District 19, since 1994; Davis Board of Education, 1978-1990
Job: Davis School District special projects director
Previous jobs: Davis Education Foundation director, 1995-2009; Davis Applied Technology College public relations director, 1985-1995; elementary school teacher and curriculum writer
Family: Husband, John, chief statistician for the Utah Jazz; four children; seven grandchildren
Contributing: Bob Bernick Jr.
e-mail: [email protected]