SALT LAKE CITY — Democrat Misty K. Snow jumped into the U.S. Senate race because she didn't think the issues she is most passionate about would get a voice.
And Utah's first transgender candidate for statewide elected office said she's not in it to make a statement about gender identity or to make history.
"I actually don't think a lot about that stuff. A lot of people are about the first this, the first that. I'm not running because I care about stuff like that. I just happen to be trans," she said.
Asked about the things she feel strongly about, Snow quickly rattled off a list.
"I want to get money out of politics. I want to fight for a living wage. I want to fight for full equality for LGBT people. I want to fight to protect women's rights. I want to talk about paid maternity leave," she said.
Snow, 30, unexpectedly forced Jonathan Swinton into a primary election at the state Democratic Party convention in April. The winner will face Republican Sen. Mike Lee.
A grocery store clerk who grew up and still lives in downtown Salt Lake City with her mother and two younger siblings, Snow said she represents the working-class people of which Congress needs more. Many senators, she said, lived a life of privilege and have no idea what it means to be poor.
Should Snow win the primary, she apparently would be the first transgender candidate in the country to secure a major party's nomination for a congressional office. Again, she said she doesn't want her gender to be a distraction from the issues she cares about.
"People say I could become a role model so I hope I become a good role model for people," Snow said, adding she recently received an email from a transgender person in Texas who wrote she wants to run in 2018 because of her.
Snow's decision to run for U.S. Senate surprised her mother, Linda Pace.
"I was like, 'Really?'" she said. "But if there's anybody who knows anything about politics, she does. Whenever I've had any questions about anything political, I've always asked her because she reads about everything and remembers everything."
Pace said she worried people would be mean, but she has seen more positive than negative. She said she's proud that Snow would be that daring.
Snow has done her homework on the issues and has a memory that's hard to beat, her mother said.
Convention delegates largely supported Snow because, unlike the conservative, pro-life Swinton, she is a progressive, pro-choice Democrat.
"She's very transparent in what she thinks about different issues," said Jennifer Koh, her campaign manager. "When you are very transparent, people tend to trust you more."
Snow, a West High School graduate, is much more guarded about her personal life and the struggles friends say she has endured. She still lives at home because she said it's too expensive to live on her own. She said she represents working-class people who have a hard time navigating the system.
"She's very courageous for even doing this," said Washington Terrace resident Beverly Prothero, who has campaigned with Snow and marched in the Utah Pride Parade with her earlier this month.
Prothero said Snow just wants to do something to help people have basic human rights.
Snow said she wasn't politically engaged until her 20s and voted in her first presidential election in 2008. She reads a lot to stay up on issues and current events.
"She's self-taught," Prothero said. "She retains this stuff."
Abby Burton got to know Snow working the evening shift with her at Harmons grocery store. Burton said they started hanging and have lunch together every Tuesday. She has seen Snow's confidence rise the past six months.
"She has a good heart," said Burton, a married mother of one child and an active member of the LDS Church. "She's a strong person to go through what she's gone through."
Burton said she was surprised Snow decided to run for Senate but agrees with her platform and plans to vote for her.
Snow hasn't brought in much money for her campaign. Her pre-convention Federal Election Commission finance report showed zero contributions and expenditures. Since then, she estimates she has collected about $7,000 in cash and various in-kind donations.
Snow supports President Barack Obama's directive on transgender bathrooms in schools. She called Utah joining a lawsuit opposing that a waste of time and money, and said the same things about the state possible suing the federal government over control of public lands.
"We have money to sue the government over every stupid thing, but they don't have money to expand Medicaid, they don't have money to expand health care, they don't have money to pay for education, they don't have money to clean up our air. It seems like they need to get their priorities straight," she said.
Snow backed Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders for president and hopes his Utah supporters will help carry her through the Democratic primary. She knows taking on Lee, whose time in office she describes as "really terrible," would be an immense challenge.
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