TAYLORSVILLE, Utah (AP) — Former Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean spoke at rallies in Taylorsville and Ogden to energize the party faithful as they kicked off an ambitious voter registration drive.
Utah Democrats hope to sign up 40,000 voters they’ve targeted as likely Democrats by November 2014. Party officials say they want to better compete with Republicans, who hold most of Utah’s congressional seats, statewide offices and a supermajority in the Legislature.
At Salt Lake Community College in Taylorsville late Monday, Dean urged activists to knock on doors and make phone calls.
“I don’t know if it’s going to take two months, two years or 20 years to turn this state into a blue state,” the former Vermont governor said. “But I know it’s never going to happen unless you take the first step.”
About 45 percent of Utah’s registered voters are Republicans, 9.5 percent are Democrats and 45 percent are independent, according to the most recent numbers from the lieutenant governor’s office.
Extra voters could make a difference in some races decided by narrow margins, including a handful of legislative seats and the 4th Congressional District seat held by Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson.
Matheson was re-elected to a seventh term in November after narrowly defeating the Republican mayor of Saratoga Springs, Mia Love.
Both candidates are heading for a rematch in what will likely be Utah’s most competitive election next year.
Utah has about 300,000 unregistered voters, said state party executive director Matt Lyon. Democratic officials insist about two-thirds of them could lean toward their party. Party officials plan to target liberal-leaning areas such as Salt Lake County and reach out to young and Latino voters.
The party also wants to attract more Mormon members.
Most state lawmakers and other elected officials are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which has its worldwide headquarters in Salt Lake City. Despite most Mormons identifying as Republicans, Lyon and Dean told volunteers there’s room to make inroads with members of the faith, particularly on social issues such as poverty and welfare.
“If we go out and get those populations registered, get them engaged, then we have an electorate where Democrats can face up against Republicans on an even ground and actually go after the independents,” Lyon said.
Dean sought the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination and later was a Democratic Party chairman.