It certainly looked like Democrats had picked up at least three seats in the Utah House on Election Day, but those races have tightened as more results have rolled in.
And in another race, a Democratic challenger for one other Salt Lake County seat remains tantalizingly close to the Republican incumbent. New results were added Tuesday and more votes are expected to be tallied in the days to come.
The closest race right now is in House District 39 between Republican Rep. Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, and Democrat Lynette Wendel. On election night, Wendel led by about 300 votes, but Dunnigan erased his deficit and pulled ahead on Tuesday by just 22 votes in this district that covers Taylorsville and Kearns.
Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, has stormed back after falling behind Democrat Wendy Davis on election night by more than 700 votes. Davis’ lead is now just 181 votes after the latest update in this district, which covers parts of Midvale, Cottonwood Heights, Sandy and South Jordan. Eliason knocked 156 votes off of Davis’ total Tuesday.
Rep. Eric Hutchings, R-Kearns, has a higher hill to climb if he plans to hang on to his seat over Democrat Ashlee Matthews. She leads by 357 votes right now, which is a hair closer than it was last week.
It certainly looks like Democrat Joe Biden has some coattails in Salt Lake City that appear to be helping down-ballot Democrats. Three of the contested seats currently held by Republicans Hall, Hutchings and Eliason were carried by Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016. Biden is outpacing Clinton in Salt Lake County by 13 points in this election, which seems to be giving the Democratic challengers a boost.
While the vote totals are tightening, Democrats remain confident that they’ll hang on to win most, if not all, of these seats as more ballots are counted in the days to come.
“We always knew that in these Utah House races the numbers would tighten as the final ballots came in,” says Utah Democratic Party Chairman Jeff Merchant.
He added they’re quite confident Davis and Wendel will be able to hang on against Eliason and Dunnigan.
“Our analysis shows that both the Democratic challengers in these races are maintaining enough of a lead to win. We anticipate both races being very close, but we are still confident,” he said.
Another race that is tightening is in West Valley City where Rep. Craig Hall, R-West Valley City, continues to hang on over Democrat Fatima Dirie by just 160 votes. This race is much closer than the 2018 contest, which Hall won by 464 ballots. In 2016, Hall prevailed by 116 ballots.
Republican Party Chairman Derek Brown said they haven’t lost hope, especially given the party’s success in Utah overall.
“As a party, we are pleased with the incredible election success we had this year, which included not only every statewide office but many incumbents who actually increased their margin of victory over previous years,” said Brown. “We remain optimistic that one or more of them are also likely to win their races after all the votes are reported.”
Republicans hold a 59-16 advantage in the Utah House, which is a supermajority. If Democrats can pick up two of these four seats, they will have their largest caucus in nearly a decade. There were 17 Democrats in the Legislature during the 2011-2012 session.