Scott Howell will need a strong showing in Utah County if he wants to beat Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, in the general election in November.
Despite being a Democrat Howell has plenty to offer to Utah County residents if they can get beyond the party he represents.
For starters, Howell was born in Provo. He's an active member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is pro-life and a supporter of the Defense of Marriage Act. He's open to improvements to the Affordable Care Act and supports extending the Bush-era tax cuts for everyone who makes $500,000 or less per year.
Based on that information, many could mistake Howell for a Republican. He insists that he is not. One of the big reasons why he won't be one anytime soon is because of a directive given to him from late LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley.
Howell, once the minority leader in the state Senate, said he was so liked by the Republicans on Capitol Hill that they offered him a deal: If he switched parties he could chair the committee that controls the state's budget. It was an enticing offer, then he met with Hinckley.
After explaining the offer to Hinckley, the church president told him he couldn't take it. Hinckley told Howell that good people were needed in both political parties and that if he switched, the Democrats would lose a good member of their party. President James E. Faust, who also was sitting in on the meeting, looked at Howell and said, "Did you just hear the prophet speak?"
Howell has worked hard for the Democratic Party since.
Fast forward to 2012 and Howell finds himself in his second attempt to send Hatch to retirement. Howell's last attempt was in 2000; Hatch netted 66 percent of the vote statewide and 80 percent in Utah County. With those numbers and presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney on the top of the ticket, it looks like another rough election night for Howell.
But Howell believes what he has to offer Utah County and the rest of the state is a candidate who wants to represent Utah, not just one party, and is not focused on his legacy or possible future positions.
"I believe politics is not about the party, it is about the people," Howell said as he sat in the conference room at his campaign headquarters, sporting a shirt, tie, slacks and cowboy boots.
Howell said he would not be a lackey for the Democratic Party just because he has a D behind his name. He's critical of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., for what Howell called a lack of leadership to control spending in Washington. In that same breath he criticized Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, for not doing more to make the government better.
"You have to have that ability to compromise," Howell said. "I will vote a vote that represents my conscience, Utah County and the Constitution."
Howell says his campaign is focused on three issues: the economy, education and energy.
Howell worked for 34 years as an executive at IBM and managed a billion-dollar portfolio, so he brings business experience -- much like Romney -- to Washington to help fix the economy.
Howell wants to keep Utah as one of the top business-friendly states in the country. To do that, Howell is looking to simplify the 73,000 pages of federal tax code and following the Buffett Rule -- a policy idea pushed by billionaire Warren Buffett that essentially states that no household making more than $1 million each year should pay a smaller share of income in taxes than a middle class family pays.
Howell feels that with a fair tax system and government allowing businesses to succeed, job creation nationwide will grow and the economy will move in a positive direction.
Education is one of the reasons he is a Democrat. Howell moved to Utah when one of his four children was starting kindergarten. On his son's first day of school Howell noticed the large class sizes and was told his son could only be in a half-day kindergarten program because the state didn't have enough money for a full-day program. He wanted to know how his son would learn what he needed to know to succeed if he couldn't go to school for a full day and be in a class with a manageable size.
That led him to run for the state Legislature so he could do something about Utah's education system. Howell is a believer in public schools and thinks the key to increasing the quality of education in Utah and in the United States is finding a way for public schools to better embrace technology.
He noted that his grandchild can learn two languages through an iPhone app but then goes into a classroom with a blackboard. Schools need the ability move away from the blackboards and evolve into more tech-savvy classrooms.
On energy Howell wants to make sure the U.S. continues to look seriously at ways to wean off fossil fuels. He said the country needs to continue looking for ways to be energy efficient and more dependent on wind, geothermal and solar power.
Howell speaks well of Hatch. But he says that Hatch is a Washington insider supported by lobbyists and political action committees. He also stated that he feels the founding fathers never intended for politicians to serve as long as Hatch has. Howell called his time, if he were to be elected to the Senate, service and not a career.
However, he's unlikely to have that chance to serve. With Romney on the top of the ticket this November, Republican turnout in Utah is expected to be high. To succeed, Howell will need many of those Republicans to split with the party they are voting for in the presidential race and give him the nod, a task that seems unlikely.
"It will be an uphill battle for him to take out Orrin Hatch," said Adam Brown, a political science professor at Brigham Young University. "The conditions don't look good for him."
Brown said that Hatch is coming off a primary victory where he was viewed as the more moderate of the two Republican candidates. Traditionally moderate Republicans succeed in statewide elections in Utah and so far Howell has not given a reason for anyone to believe what traditionally happens in Utah won't happen again in November.
"It will be hard to get people convinced that they even want to know him," Brown said.
Despite those tough odds, Howell is hoping Utah County, and the rest of the state, gives him a chance.
"I'm refreshing," he said. "I'm someone they can trust."