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Laura Seitz, Deseret News
Candidate Derek Kitchen speaks with Rachel Fletcher while canvassing the 800 S. 600 East neighborhood of Salt Lake City on Friday, June 15, 2018.

SALT LAKE CITY — Heading into the June 26 primary, 12 Utah House seats and five Senate seats have contenders vying to be the nominee for their political parties — and of those, Democrats, in particular, are having an interesting year.

The vacancy being left by the Legislature's most rowdy Democrat, Sen. Jim Dabakis, in the liberal Avenues district has drawn what is shaping up to be one of the most high-profile Legislative primary races.

In one corner, a familiar face to Salt Lake City politics: food entrepreneur and one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the State of Utah for same-sex marriage, Salt Lake City Councilman Derek Kitchen. In the other, a familiar face healthcare and addiction advocacy: pediatrician and co-founder of Utah Naloxone, Jennifer Plumb.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News
Candidate Derek Kitchen speaks with Rachel Fletcher while canvassing the 800 S. 600 East neighborhood of Salt Lake City on Friday, June 15, 2018.

Dabakis' vacancy leaves some tough shoes to fill, said University of Utah political science professor Matthew Burbank, in a Legislature where Democrats cherish every seat they hold. Whichever of the Democratic candidates survive the primary will face Republican candidate Chase Winder in the November general election.

"For Democrats, there is a sense if they're going to get something done, they'll need somebody like (Dabakis)," Burbank said, noting the outgoing senator's reputation as a loud and unabashed voice for minority groups. "So it raises this expectation that whoever takes that seat is going to have to fill that role."

But both Kitchen and Plumb say they don't see themselves exactly following in the same boisterous footsteps as Dabakis — though they do both see themselves as champions for the voiceless.

Kitchen was recently endorsed by Dabakis, but the city councilman said his goal is "not so much about replicating Jim, but drawing influence from him and bringing my own style to the table."

"I've been serving as an elected official and have really caught my stride when it comes to policy making in my own way, and I will likely be that kind of legislator on the Hill," Kitchen said, adding that he'll take a "consensus-based mindset," focus on "progressive ideals," and be an advocate for the "underdog."

Kitchen also noted it's important to continue to have LGBT representation in the Utah Legislature. Like Dabakis, Kitchen is openly gay.

As for Plumb, she said the Utah Legislature needs the "right kind of person" to advance progressive legislation, and she says she's got that experience.

She helped successfully lobby for several bills at the Utah Legislature, including bills that have helped increase access to the overdose reversal drug, Naloxone.

James Wooldridge, Deseret News
Jennifer Plumb, right, a Democratic candidate for state Senate from District 2, talks to Sabra Nelson, left, and Darlene Schultz about putting together Naloxone kits at the Utah Support Advocates for Recovery Awareness in South Salt Lake on Friday, June 15, 2018. Plumb's brother died from a heroin overdose in 1996.

Plumb, noting that Dabakis focused more on debates rather than passing bills, said "If people want more of what Jim has been, then I suppose Derek is their candidate. But if they want somebody who is going to actually get up there and get bills done — someone who is a pediatrician and not just a Democrat — then I'm their candidate," Plumb said.

Plumb, however, was endorsed by retiring Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck, D-Salt Lake City, whose empty House District 24 seat has drawn a more crowded of pool of hopeful Democrats.

Candidates competing in the June primary include Darin Mann, Jacquelyn Orton, Igor Limansky and Jen Dailey-Provost. The prevailing Democrat will face off with the Republican nominee, Scott Rosenbush, in November.

Another crowded primary race is the contest for both GOP and Democratic nominees for the multi-county Senate District 26 seat being left vacant by retiring Sen. Kevin Van Tassell, R-Vernal. Republican primary candidates are Ronald Winterton, Jack Rubin and Brian Gorum, while Democrats include Eileen Gallagher and Pat Vaughn.

Other primary races include:

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  • Senate District 3: Republicans Marlin Baer versus Jeremy Egan. The victor will challenge Democratic incumbent Sen. Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake City, in the general election.
  • Senate District 8: Republican Jaren Davis is challenging GOP incumbent Rep. Brian Zehnder, R-Salt Lake City, for a two-year term. Zehnder was appointed by the Salt Lake County GOP to fill in the vacancy left by former Sen. Brian Shiozawa, R-Cottonwood Heights, who resigned to move to Denver. The victor will compete against Democratic nominee Kathleen Riebe and United Utah nominee John Jackson in the general election.
  • Senate District 17: Current Rep. Scott Sandall, R-Tremonton, is running up against Clark Davis for the Republican nominee to replace retiring Sen. Pete Knudson, R-Brigham City. The victor will face Democrat Michael Keil in November.
  • House District 4: Republicans Greg Merrill and Dan Johnson will compete to replace outgoing Rep. Edward Redd, R-Logan. The primary winner will face Democrat Josh Brundage.
  • House District 8: Republicans Steve Waldrip and Jason Kyle are competing to replace outgoing Rep. Gage Froerer, R-Huntsville. The victor will face Froerer's sister-in-law, Democrat Deana Froerer.
  • House District 10: Republicans Lorraine Brown and Terry Schow will face off to replace departing Rep. Dixon Pitcher, R-Ogden. The victor will compete against Democratic nominee Lawanna Shurtliff.
  • House District 19: Republican incumbent Rep. Ray Ward, R-Bountiful, is being challenged by former Utah GOP Vice Chairman Phill Wright. The primary winner will face off with Democrat Courtney Jones in the general election.
  • House District 20: Republicans Melissa Garff Ballard, Matt Jensen and Glen Jenkins are vying to replace outgoing Rep. Becky Edwards, R-North Salt Lake. The winner will compete against Democrat Ryan Jones.
  • House District 27: Republicans Jared Carman and Brady Brammer are seeking to replace Rep. Mike Kennedy, R-Alpine, who is running for the U.S. Senate against Mitt Romney for the GOP nomination. The primary victor will compete against Independent American candidate Curt Crosby, Libertarian candidate Joseph Geddes Buchman, and Democrat Elisabeth Luntz.
  • House District 57: Republicans Alexander Carter and Jon Hawkins are competing to replace outgoing Rep. Brian Greene, R-Pleasant Grove. The winner will face off with United Utah candidate Hillary Stirling.
  • House District 61: Republicans Parl Johnson versus Marsha Judkins for the seat left vacant by former Rep. Keith Grover, R-Provo, who secured the GOP nomination to run for a Senate seat. The victor will compete against Green Party candidate Matt Styles and United Utah candidate Eric Chase in the general election.
  • House District 69: Incumbent Rep. Christine Watkins, R-Price, is being challenged by Republican Jae Potter. The winner will compete against Democrat Tim Glenn in November.
  • House District 71: Incumbent Rep. Brad Last, R-Hurricane, is being challenged by Republican Mark Borowiak. The victor will face off with Democrat Chuck Goode in the general election.