Local Democrats caucus: A spot of blue in a sea of red

Mar 13 2012 - 9:05pm

The joke used to be the Davis County Democratic Party was so small they could caucus in a phone booth.

Well, a phone booth just isn't big enough anymore. It takes at least a school gymnasium to do the job now.

In a week when state parties hold their caucus meetings, a cluster of more than 100 Democrats from Layton and Clearfield met at North Davis Junior High School on Tuesday, to elect delegates and precinct officers. The delegates will be asked to attend both county and state party conventions to nominate candidates for the fall election.

With a Republican advantage of seven-to-one in registered voters, Davis County is a very red county in a very red state. But for one evening there was at least a spot of blue to be found.

"We don't need to turn the county blue, we need to help make it purple," Beverly Dawson, precinct chairwoman, told the assembled groups. With more than 61,000 unaffiliated voters in the county and more than 10,000 registered Democrats, that task is not that far out of reach. Those two groups combined almost equal the number of GOP registered voters in the county.

Barbara Sill, of Layton, attended the caucus and was encouraged by what she saw in turnout, in comparison to what she has experienced before.

"This is an impressive turnout," Sill said as she watched seats fill up in the school gym. She said the last caucus she attended drew only 30 people. She credited a push by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, urging its members to attend caucus meetings, as one potential reason for the larger turnout.

Caucus turnout aside, the task to win in hardly an easy one.

Davis County voters have not elected a Democrat to a county office since 1990, when J. Dell Holbrook was elected to the county commission. Holbrook is the only Democrat elected in a Davis County position for the past 59 years.

Matt Lyon, executive director of the Utah Democratic Party, praised the efforts of local Democrats, who he said are building a growing base in the county. He said the extremism of Republicans at the state level is driving the growth.

"There's a group of Davis County Democrats that have been meeting monthly. Their attendance shows they are actively growing," Lyon said.

Councilman Marc Knight, of Bountiful, says being a Democrat in Davis County makes it difficult, but not impossible to win election. He predicts the extremes in the Republican Party will lead to a "highly vocal and a contested election cycle" this fall.

Mayor Jamie Nagle, of Syracuse, whose husband serves as treasurer of the Davis County Democratic Party, said she thinks people are tired of partisan politics.

"I believe that people are reasonable, and if you take the time to get to know them and talk about how much you have in common, you can find the 90 percent common ground and move forward rather than let the 10 percent of your differences divide you," Nagle said.

Holbrook is forthright about the challenge at the county level. He said it is key that Democrats find an "acceptable" candidate whose viewpoints on issues are not perceived to be offensive to a large population of Latter-day Saints in the county. He said the setting also needs to be conducive to change, for a Democrat to have a chance to win at the county level.

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