Democrats in deep-red Utah are looking to Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams to flip one of the state's four Republican-controlled congressional districts and contribute to a national effort to take control of the U.S. House. But first he'll need to fend off four challengers at Saturday's state convention.
McAdams is the favorite to win the party's nomination for the largely suburban 4th Congressional District, south of Salt Lake City, and head into the general election against two-term incumbent Mia Love.
His opponents include a robotics engineer and a technical engineer whose victory would make the contest Utah's first congressional race between two black women.
About 2,000 people are expected at a convention that comes as Democrats in conservative states like Utah are buoyed by opposition to President Donald Trump's policies, and by surprising recent wins in Pennsylvania, Alabama and elsewhere. In Arizona this week, Republican Debbie Lesko narrowly defeated her Democratic challenger in a district the GOP never would have considered in peril in any other year.
"We have had more Democrats file to run for office this year than at any time in the last eight years," state party executive director Alex Cragun said. "We're seeing an invigorated Utah Democratic Party."
Utah Democrats also will choose a nominee for U.S. Senate, with the winner likely to square off against former presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who was forced into a primary against state lawmaker Mike Kennedy at his party's convention last weekend.
Salt Lake County Councilwoman Jenny Wilson is the favorite against three opponents, including a former IRS agent and a marketing professional inspired by Sen. Bernie Sanders. The two-term councilwoman was the first woman elected to the Salt Lake County Council.
Democratic delegates also will select nominees for state Legislature and the state's three other congressional districts, which lean heavily Republican. In those districts, candidates will also compete with the centrist United Utah Party, founded by the son of the late Republican Sen. Bob Bennett. United Utah Party nominees will be confirmed at a separate convention held at a suburban middle school Saturday.
McAdams is hoping to use the convention as a launching pad to highlight a campaign that will focus on his moderate appeal as he tries to become the first Democrat to land a congressional seat in Utah since Jim Matheson won re-election for his seventh term in 2012.
"No Democrat wins in Utah without a lot of Republican votes," he said. "I've proven that I'm good at reaching across the aisle and building coalitions and that's, I think, what we need in this country."
McAdams is a two-term mayor of Salt Lake County, which covers about 85 percent of the congressional district's population. He's considered something of a rising star within the state Democratic Party, which is outnumbered by Republicans statewide 4-to-1.
The 4th District is slightly friendlier terrain, if nonetheless challenging. Republicans outnumber Democrats 3-to-1, but independent voters are the largest block and account for more than two-fifths of the electorate, according to the state's election office.
Love's district "leaves her somewhat vulnerable," said Jeremy Pope, co-director of the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy at Brigham Young University. "That will probably be a tight race."
The contest will be key to national Democrats' hopes to flip the 23 seats needed to regain control of the House. The party's national campaign arm has included McAdams in a group of roughly three-dozen districts targeted for pickup this November.
Polling suggests Love has a slight edge in the race.
Love reported in April having raised $2.2 million for her campaign, compared with McAdams's $1 million.
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