SALT LAKE CITY — Alabama Democrat Doug Jones' surprise victory in that state's Senate race "is incredibly energizing" for Utah Democrats, a party official said Wednesday.
"This really shows Democrats can win statewide in red states. Alabama is one of the reddest states in the country," said Marcus Stevenson, Utah State Democratic Party vice chairman. "We can do this."
Jones beat Republican Roy Moore in a state that hasn't elected a Democratic senator in a quarter of a century despite support for Moore from President Donald Trump and Trump's former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon.
Moore has been accused of sexual misconduct with teenage girls years ago, charges he has denied. A Christian conservative, he has taken positions that have alienated women, racial minorities, the LGBT community and Muslims.
Bannon has already expressed interest in other races around the country in 2018, including the Senate seat in Utah that's been held by GOP Sen. Orrin Hatch for more than four decades after he defeated the state's last Democratic senator in 1976.
Salt Lake County Councilwoman Jenny Wilson, a Democrat running for Hatch's seat in the Senate, said Jones' win "is very good for my race."
Wilson said, like Jones, she's reaching out to voters throughout the state.
"It shows that in a Trump-Bannon era, people have had enough of bitter and divisive politics. I align with Doug Jones as a moderate," she said. "His victory shows engagement with citizens and good old-fashioned politics pays off."
Wilson has already sent out a fundraising email, saying "the voters of Alabama showed they’ll put doing what’s right above partisan politics. American values were vindicated. Women were vindicated."
Hatch is expected to announce whether he'll run for an eighth term by the end of the year. Mitt Romney, the 2012 GOP presidential nominee and one of Trump's toughest critics, is said to be preparing a Senate campaign.
During a campaign speech for Moore in Alabama last week, Bannon lashed out at Romney, suggesting he was a draft dodger for serving an LDS Church mission in France during the Vietnam War.
Romney had tweeted in response to Trump's endorsement of Moore that the Alabama Republican serving in the Senate "would be a stain on the GOP and on the nation," and that "no vote, no majority is worth losing our honor, our integrity."
Bannon's attack on Romney sparked a quick response from many Utah leaders, including Gov. Gary Herbert. The GOP governor labeled Bannon a "Mormon bigot" and urged him to stay out of the state's politics.
Longtime Romney supporter Kirk Jowers said Moore's loss demonstrates that Bannon's election tactics are not only divisive and destructive, they are also not effective.
"The good thing for Romney or any candidate that does not toe the Bannon party line is Bannon will not have the ability to impact good quality Republican candidates in the future," Jowers said.
Bannon is so extreme, he said, that "his brand of politics just does not work with more than about 10 percent of the people in Utah." Jowers warned that "any Utah politician foolish enough to talk to him deserves what they get."
Jason Perry, head of the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics, said Bannon was never going to win over many voters in Utah, even before his candidate lost big in Alabama.
"Bannon-ism has not and will not play well here in the state of Utah. His attack on Mitt Romney and his faith solidified that fact," Perry said, and also "will make it difficult for any candidates he selects to have traction in this state."
He said the lesson from Alabama is how Democrats got voters there involved.
"It is possible to get people to the ballot box that don't normally come. They've given voice to people who have not previously engaged in politics," Perry said. "In Utah, it should be a sign that everybody should get engaged."
Stevenson said Utah Democrats hope to capitalize on the momentum from Jones' success as they try to attract voters in a state that's long been dominated by Republicans.
"If we can empower these different communities to show up to vote, we can change this state," he said. "That also means reaching out to the majority of voters as well, which is the LDS community, and making sure they feel welcome."
Members of Utah's all-Republican congressional delegation had kept their distance from Moore, although Hatch had defended the president's endorsement, saying Trump had little choice because he needed GOP votes for his agenda.
Hatch later said he himself had not endorsed Moore and criticized Bannon for his statements about Romney.
Rep. Chris Stewart said Wednesday he "called for Judge Moore to drop out of the race. I don't believe that anyone with these kinds of allegations should be serving in Congress, and the majority of people in Alabama agree."
For Rep. Mia Love, the "election was not about Republican or Democrat. It was about right and wrong." She said Moore "insisted he had done nothing wrong, yet admitted to activity that most of America would reject" as at least extremely inappropriate.
"No political consideration should take the place of doing what's right," Love said. "I'm glad the people of Alabama and the rest of America can move on."
Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams, a Democrat challenging Love in next year's 4th Congressional District, sent out a fundraising email shortly after Jones was declared the winner in Alabama.42 comments on this story
"The right candidate won tonight in Alabama, and he did it with support from Republicans and Democrats who said 'enough is enough.' Now it's our turn," McAdams wrote. "Let's show America that Utahns are ready to build bridges and solve problems together."
The newest member of Utah's congressional delegation, Rep. John Curtis, said elections are "about who we are as a people and who we want to be in the future," and "no majority is ever worth losing our integrity and our convictions."