Utah Democrats open first office in the ‘beating heart’ of the GOP

Posted at 4:37 PM, Sep 09, 2016
and last updated 2016-09-10 15:13:40-04

PROVO -- Campaign signs are scattered around this spartan office, as candidates pop in for interviews and volunteers can pick up lawn signs or mailers.

It's the Utah Democratic Party's first office in the "beating heart" of the Republican Party -- Utah County.

"We want to do everything we can to build on election season as well as create a community for Democrats in Utah County," said Jonny Griffith, the vice-chair of the Utah County Democrats.

The office is Democratic gubenatorial candidate Mike Weinholtz's, who allows other campaigns to use it. It's also a sign that Democrats are wanting to get louder in Utah County.

"I think it's a function of the fact that the Democratic Party better represents Utah values," said Stephen Tryon, a candidate challenging incumbent Republican congressman Jason Chaffetz.

State party officials acknowledge they were surprised when Utah County showed big gains in voter registration and turnout during caucus night.

"Eighty-two percent showed up for Bernie Sanders," said Brooke Swallow-Fenton, a candidate for the Utah State Legislature. "That's the largest percentage in the entire state, including Salt Lake County."

The Utah County Democrats' field office in Provo. (Image via Ben Winslow, FOX 13 News)

The Utah County Democrats' field office in Provo. (Image via Ben Winslow, FOX 13 News)

Utah County Democrats are hoping to create momentum for other races. Griffith said Utah County is growing quickly and demographics are changing. He pointed to Brigham Young University and Utah Valley University, which consist of young people who tend to vote more liberal.

Utah County Republican Party Chairman Craig Frank said he welcomed his Democratic counterparts, but pointed out that the area elects Republicans by "a healthy majority" and predicted it would continue along that path.

"I believe for the next 100 years Utah County will be Republican," Frank told FOX 13. "I'm not too concerned about an offset. We are doing our part within our party to strengthen Republican values and platform."

Beyond this election cycle, Utah County Democrats insist they're playing a long game.

"It may not happen this year, but it can happen in two years," said Swallow-Fenton. "We're also looking at the example of Colorado, that used to be a Republican state. They changed things by getting out in the field, talking with voters face-to-face, and we're going to do that with this office here."