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Saturday, November 8, 2008
A Look at the Election Results: Utah

Races for Governor, Utah House and Senate, and more.

Here are some notes on Utah races. Numbers are unofficial.


At the top of the ticket, where Utah is concerned, was a gubernatorial landslide. Governor Jon Huntsman, Jr., won a second term with more than 77 percent of the vote. The Democratic ticket, led by Bob Springmeyer, came in a hair under 20 percent. This left 2.6 percent for Superdell; I'd be curious what 22,905 people were thinking. Maybe the only word they saw on the ballot was "Libertarian."

Now that I think about it, I wonder how a President of the United States would fare in the approval ratings if he sat down with his cabinet and Congressional leaders and said, "Revenues are down. We have to cut the budget across the board." I suppose that what Governor Huntsman did recently is not unusual for a governor, but it's almost unthinkable for a president. What's wrong with this picture?

Other Statewide Offices

Republicans Mark Shurtleff (69.7 percent), Richard Ellis (66.8 percent), and Auston Johnson III (58.7 percent) won their races for Attorney General, Treasurer, and Auditor, respectively. I suspect that Johnson's number is an interesting benchmark for an unknown Republican's performance against an unknown Democrat in a statewide office -- a statistical starting point, you might say, for someone wanting to run statewide. Of course, it's hard to say whether Governor Huntsman and the other Republicans in statewide races enjoyed additional margins due to better name identification, excellent job performance, or impressive qualifications, or some combination of the three.

Constitutional Amendments

The first four amendments passed by roughly 70/30 margins. The fifth, to allow the state to invest certain funds in private companies (either stocks or bonds), failed by about 13 percent. In talking to an unscientific sample of voters, I found that most of them didn't think allowing the state to invest in the stock market these days is a wise idea. One studious voter had an additional reason: He noted that the "Argument in Favor" in the Voter Information Pamphlet ballot language suggested some serious limits on those investments, but the amendment itself didn't seem to contain such limits. I missed that.

Utah School Board

Except for a vague sense that Kyle Bateman ran a better, more communicative campaign that Mark Openshaw in District 13 -- he ended up winning about 59 to 41 percent -- the only race I followed at all was in my own District 12, where incumbent Mark Cluff lost relatively narrowly to Carol Murphy, by a margin of about three percent. Cluff was public in his support for vouchers and a sensible math curriculum, so he had my support. I suspect it was the voucher support last year that made the difference in his defeat this year.

Utah Legislature

The Republican majority in the Utah Senate held at 21 to 8. Note that only half of state senators are up for reelection in a given year. Utah House Republicans lost two seats, finishing with a 53 to 22 majority. Only five of 75 House races and one of 15 Senate races had margins under five percent.

Republican Lavar Christensen, who ran for US House in 2006, lost his race in District 48 by two percent. You'd think that if he was candidate enough for a US House race, which he wasn't, winning his own Utah House district wouldn't have posed much of a problem.

House Speaker Greg Curtis, who won in 2006 by the narrowest of margins, two or three dozen votes, wasn't even close this year, losing to Democrat Jay Seegmiller by about 11 percent. I doubt that's enough of a shock to jar House Republicans out of their complacency, but maybe it will help.

In my own District 27, incumbent Republican John Dougall won about 70/30. Democrat Gwyn Franson was a serious candidate and ran a visible campaign; I thought 60/40 would have been a favorable result for Dougall, who seems highly regarded in his district generally but is not much loved by the education establishment.

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