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Utah County Dems come out of woodwork for caucus night

By Harrison Epstein - | Mar 23, 2022

Harrison Epstein, Daily Herald

Lucas Ramirez, center, speaks with a group of people during the Utah County Democratic caucus event at the Provo City Library on Tuesday, March 22, 2022. Ramirez is a candidate for House District 58 in Orem.

Hope was the message of the Utah County Democratic Party caucus meetings Tuesday — hope for the candidates, the message and for the future of Democrats in the historically conservative state.

Ethan Bassett, the county party vice chair, spoke about hope in his opening message before adding that turnout — seeing excited Democrats engage with the process — showed their hope was possible.

More than possible, it was the result of work registering voters and connecting with people to increase turnout, even to levels higher than in presidential years.

“It makes me feel not so alone coming to meetings like this because in Utah as a Democrat you’re a blue dot in a sea of red,” said Rachel Mitchell, a Spanish Fork resident. “It does make you feel more hopeful that you’re not the only one.”

For many attendees, 2016 was the gold standard. With a hotly contested Democratic primary between Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, people came out of the woodwork to have their voices heard. Then again in 2020, before the pandemic shutdowns began, people were motivated to speak up in the presidential election. According to Katie Adams-Anderton, the county party chair, those numbers were exceeded this time around.

Harrison Epstein, Daily Herald

A caucus attendee examines the neighborhood precinct maps on her phone during the Utah County Democratic caucus at the Provo City Library on Tuesday, March 22, 2022.

“We had more in attendance than our Bernie years, which is a huge feat for an off year,” she said.

Turnout in Provo exceeded expectations for many of the attendees. In fact, what was planned for one room needed a second to fit all the attendees from the city. Other tables were grouped by area — Orem, Vineyard, Lindon at one table, etc. — with those in the same neighborhood precincts seeking out one another for impromptu chair elections and discussions around the party’s electoral candidates.

More than direct planning, the caucus was an opportunity for Utah County’s Democrats to gather and be together for the first time since 2018. The 2020 caucus was not held in person due to COVID-19. For some, like Utah Young Democrats President Emma Fetzer, this is the first in-person caucus they have been able to attend.

“It is more than we expected,” Fetzer said. “A lot of it too is we haven’t seen each other in years and so it’s so nice to just gather again.”

There was a hearty group of young Democrats going through caucus for the first time; however, there were plenty of longtime residents ready for another election cycle.

Harrison Epstein, Daily Herald

Utah County residents listen to group discussions during the Utah County Democratic caucus at the Provo City Library on Tuesday, March 22, 2022.

Mitchell drove from Spanish Fork to participate in her third in-person caucus, but with her daughter Lydia, currently 17 years old but turning 18 before Election Day, participating for the first time.

“She and her friend know way more about politics and candidates than I ever did in high school; it was not even on my radar,” Rachel Mitchell said. “It’s pretty cool that kids her age are into it.”

In Provo were a handful of candidates for office, including Daniel Friend and Lucas Ramirez, both running for the state Legislature, and Archie Williams, who is running for Congress in the 3rd District.

Still, even with the optimism was awareness of the difficulty Democrats face. “Anytime you have a second person from your precinct show up, that’s a party,” Traci Lawrence said in one of the groups.

Next on the schedule is the county convention then the state convention, where delegates will vote on candidates. For the most part, there are few questions for Democratic delegates. They will decide between Williams and Glenn Wright, a former member of the Summit County Council, for the 3rd District and whether to back Kael Weston in the race for U.S. Senate — or no Democrat at all.

Harrison Epstein, Daily Herald

Utah County Democratic Party Vice Chair Ethan Bassett, left, talks with caucus attendees in the Provo room during the Utah County Democratic caucus at the Provo City Library on Tuesday, March 22, 2022.

In the campaign for the seat currently held by Sen. Mike Lee, Evan McMullin has complicated traditional plans. The former presidential candidate pledged to run as an independent, but only if Lee is the Republican nominee. This has led to McMulling receiving the backing of several prominent Utah Democrats, including Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson and former Rep. Ben McAdams.

Despite this, Weston has continued his campaign, believing he is the right person for the job. Fetzer, who is also working for the Weston campaign, supports his run and believes his run for Congress in 2020 against Chris Stewart showed that, despite ultimately being unsuccessful, he could seriously compete in a statewide race.

“Now that he is running across the entire state, he has a reach that McMullin and Lee don’t have,” Fetzer said. “Kael is also running on issues, rather than ‘I’m not Mike Lee.’ I think that’s important and voters see that.”

A Provo resident holds precinct officer paperwork during the Utah County Democratic caucus at the Provo City Library on Tuesday, March 22, 2022.


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