SALT LAKE CITY — Both Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams and Salt Lake County Councilwoman Jenny Wilson easily won their nomination races Saturday at the Utah Democratic Party State Convention.
With 72 percent of the vote, McAdams will be the Democrat on the ballot in November in the 4th Congressional District, a seat currently held by Rep. Mia Love, R-Utah, who faced no opposition from within her party.
Wilson won 81 percent of the vote for the party’s U.S. Senate nomination.
Republicans will decide in June whether Wilson faces Mitt Romney, the 2012 GOP presidential nominee, or state Rep. Mike Kennedy, R-Alpine, for the seat held by retiring Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.
Nearly 1,000 convention delegates filling a Salt Palace hall heard some fiery speeches from candidates in those races, as well as for the nominations for the state’s other three seats in Congress, all held by Republicans.
The day’s most competitive race was in the 4th Congressional District, where Love is seeking a third term and is considered the most vulnerable member of the state’s all-Republican congressional delegation.
The nomination fight was seen as pitting McAdams as a moderate against more progressive candidates Darlene McDonald, Tom Taylor and Sheldon Kirkham.
McAdams told delegates about the frightening night as mayor he spent undercover in a homeless shelter where a bunkmate had “a heroin needle in his arm” and a violent fight broke out nearby.
He said while he and other leaders, including Republicans, worked together on the homelessness issue, Love was missing from the process. McAdams called her “an empty seat at our table of Utah problem solvers on every issue.”
Utah “needs a leader who will show up to find solutions” on health care, public lands, affordable higher education and other issues, he said, “not someone who uses the key to walk through the door of opportunity and then locks the door behind her.”
But other candidates in the race took on McAdams.
Taylor threw his support behind McDonald in his speech to delegates, calling putting “safe” candidates on the ballot a failed strategy and urging them to embrace the policies of 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.
“Vote for the person who inspires you,” he said.
In her speech, McDonald went after Love’s backing from the National Rifle Association but also asked for the delegates’ “support and your faith that the progressive message will carry us to victory in November.”
Kirkham also spoke of progressive issues in his speech. Another candidate, Morgan Shepherd, reportedly dropped out of the race Friday and did not appear on stage at the convention.
After the results were announced, McAdams said he resisted attempts to push him from what he called his centrist positions.
“I made the decision early on that I was going to be true to myself and say what I believe to the delegates here today. There were a lot of people who wanted me to move to the left and be more liberal,” he said. “I’m happy that people responded.”
McAdams said he’ll continue to campaign on his ability to work across party lines and intends to “build a coalition of Republicans and Democrats and independents, people who want to put problem solving ahead of politics.”
McDonald, who received 25 percent of the 4th District delegate vote, said she intended to help McAdams win in November because “we need to beat Mia Love. At the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about.”
In the Senate race, Wilson was long viewed as the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination in a race that included Mitchell Vice, Larry Livingston and Jeff Dransfield.
Wilson stressed her Utah roots and mocked Mitt Romney, the favorite in the Republican primary election for the U.S. Senate nomination, by offering to give him directions to places in the state.
She drew a big cheer by telling delegates she was for Main Street, not Wall Street.
Vice, who had been seen as her toughest competition in the nomination race, said he was “committed to every American thriving.” Livingston slammed delegates for being too liberal and yelled, “You’re stupid,” as he walked off stage.
After her win, Wilson said that unlike the Utah GOP, Democrats are united. Her message for voters, she said, is that she’s the candidate who can bring change to the federal government.
“We need to deliver for everyone in this state,” Wilson told reporters before hugging her father, former Salt Lake City Mayor Ted Wilson. “Not just the elite, not just one party and not just one group of people. And that’s what I represent.”
Ted Wilson said his daughter is “full of spunk,” and although she has a tough race ahead of her, “She’ll make this much more of a race than most people would predict right now.”
The 4th District race, viewed nationally as unusually competitive for Republican-dominated Utah but still an uphill battle for a Democrat, was closely watched by progressive Utahns.
“Our goal basically is to flip Mia Love’s seat,” said Adam Thompson, head of Utah’s CD4 Coalition, whose stated mission includes electing “progressive candidates who will stand for our values.”
Thompson, who said the group’s efforts stemmed from Sanders’ presidential campaign, pledged the group will support McAdams as the party’s nominee.
“Don’t get me wrong. There will be some people upset,” he said of a McAdams win. But Thompson said he preferred to avoid a primary that could “fracture” support for the Democratic nominee.
Like Republicans, Democrats require candidates to win more than 60 percent of delegate support to be nominated at convention. Otherwise, the top two vote-getters go on to a primary election.
Candidates can also gather voter signatures for a place on the primary ballot, but neither Wilson nor McAdams chose to do so. McAdams had signed up to gather signatures, but his campaign decided the expense wasn’t necessary.
In the other congressional races, Democrats nominated Shireen Ghorbani in the 2nd Congressional District to face Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah; and James Singer to run against the winner of the 3rd Congressional District GOP primary between Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, and former state lawmaker Chris Herod.
In the 1st Congressional District, delegates sent Kurt Weiland and Lee Castillo to a primary. The seat is held by Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah.
Democrats Saturday also voted for nominees in three multi-county legislative races, as well as for a new, streamlined platform amended to include support for the Equal Rights Amendment, repealing the death penalty and legalizing medical cannabis.
They chose Tim Glenn as the Democratic candidate for the state House District 69 seat held by Rep. Christine Watkins, R-Price, who had been a Democrat until losing a 2012 re-election bid to the Legislature.
In House District 54, Meaghan Miller was nominated to take on Rep. Tim Quinn, R-Heber, and in Senate District 26, Pat Vaughn and Eileen Gallagher will face off in a primary for what is an open seat.
Democratic Party officials promised an hour of community service for every hour less that they met than last week’s lengthy GOP convention. The party wrapped up the big races within four hours.
In contrast, Republicans met into the evening on April 21, debating for hours over how to handle a number of constitutional and bylaws changes related to the ongoing legal battle over the law allowing candidate signature-gathering.
Utah Democratic Party Executive Director Alex Cragun noted the differences between the two parties.
“We were civil. We were prompt. We were succinct,” Cragun said. “We’re ready to lead. I think I now have at least four hours of community service to do and I really hope my Republican counterparts join us.”