Voices: Utah Democrats have turned tail and abandoned the state. It’s shameful

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McMullin jumped into the race a few months ago as he was repelled by Trump's 'bigoted' rhetoric (Getty)
McMullin jumped into the race a few months ago as he was repelled by Trump's 'bigoted' rhetoric (Getty)

2018 is the first year I did not vote for a Democratic candidate for the US House of Representatives. Don’t get me wrong, I would have liked to. As a staunch leftist and lifelong Democrat — I registered with the party on my 18th birthday — the thought of voting for a Republican is anathema to me. But I was living in eastern North Carolina, and there was no Democratic candidate on the ballot. So, I didn’t vote — at least not in that race.

Being robbed of my choice was infuriating. Surely the Democrats could have found someone — anyone — to run for the House. Yes, in my district the chances of victory were slim; the last Democrat to represent North Carolina’s third congressional district was defeated in 1992. But to feel that the party thought so little of my district — and so little of the people who lived there — that they didn’t even bother to show up in the most basic of ways was a real kick in the gut.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this since news broke that Utah Democrats have decided not to nominate a candidate for the Senate. Instead of challenging incumbent Republican Mike Lee directly, Democrats in the Beehive State have endorsed independent conservative candidate Evan McMullin. This despite the fact that a willing Democrat, Kael Weston, was seeking the party’s nomination.

This is not just bad politics, but it is almost an unforgivable betrayal of not only the party’s base — especially those of us who live in rural America. The Democratic Party is essentially waving the white flag of defeat, admitting that it is too out-of-step with the people of Utah to win there. Worse, they’re admitting that they have no desire to change that.

Rather than find a way to build bridges and make inroads into rural America, the Democratic Party just gave up on it. As a voter here, I find that deeply insulting. Simply put, you cannot expect people to vote for you if you never ask for their votes. And Democrats just decided we are no longer worth asking.

Ostensibly, Democrats did this to increase the chances of the Trumpian Lee losing in November. That’s at least the messaging McMullin’s own campaign is going with. “Today, Utah Democrats voted to join Evan McMullin’s cross-partisan coalition and not to nominate a candidate into the 2022 midterm US Senate race,” McMullin’s campaign said in a statement Saturday, according to CNN. “This marks the first time in Utah’s history that the Democratic Party has not put forward a candidate for a statewide race, choosing instead to put country over party.”

I’m glad that Evan McMullin is anti-Trump. Any patriotic American should be after the insurrection. But being anti-Trump is simply not enough of a reason to vote for him. That is not a platform or position. It’s the bare minimum. And rather than admitting that our ideas are so unpopular in places like Utah that we may as well not run, Democrats ought to find ways to reclaim the narrative and make those ideas palatable to Utahns (and, indeed, to all Americans.)

It is not “putting country over party” to elect a neoconservative like McMullin. This is a man who has been on the record as personally opposing same-sex marriage — even though his own mother is married to another woman — although he has said that he respects the ruling to legalize but would like churches to be able to refuse to perform same-sex ceremonies. He’s also spoken out against abortion rights, saying that he does not think the government should provide any funds to Planned Parenthood. At a time when Roe v Wade is under attack, that’s especially concerning. And this is a man who supported NAFTA — which outsourced good-paying, American jobs — as well as reductions to corporate income and estate taxes. He also supports means-testing Social Security, raising the retirement age, and gutting the already feeble social safety net.

If that is country over party, one has to ask just whose country McMullin thinks it is. As a working-class gay man, it certainly isn’t mine. Dick Cheney himself might happily vote for McMullin, but no Democrat in their right mind would.

Granted, Democrats are clearly not in their right mind if they are asking their voters to cast their ballots for the likes of McMullin, either. That’s because Democrats can win in rural America — they just have to know how.

Ask Chloe Maxmin. In 2018, she made national headlines when she won election to the Maine House of Representatives by running as an extremely progressive candidate in the most rural county of the most rural state in America. Maxmin went on to one-up this feat in 2020, unseating the Republican leader of the Maine Senate.

Maxmin never compromised her left-wing values, but she engaged with her constituents on their terms: building relationships, knocking on doors, and turning up. Essentially, she won with some good old-fashioned relational politics. She understood that in small-town and rural America, that is what counts more than most anything.

In Utah, though, Democrats have turned tail and run back to our own safe seats in the tony suburbs and cosmopolitan cities that increasingly represent the base of the Democratic Party. Rather than taking the fight to Republicans on their own home turf, the party has left Utahns with a choice not between the right and the left but between the far-right and the center-right.

Such a strategy will backfire spectacularly on the party. The only way to ensure the future viability of Democrats in states like Utah is to do the hard work of running there, of building up a political base and a network of supporters — even if that risks failure at the beginning. Democrats’ unwillingness to do that work is precisely why we are where we are: so afraid of losing in Utah, we’ve already forfeited. It’s shameful.

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