Mitt Romney, Mia Love and marijuana headline Utah election

FILE - Former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney introduces Republican U.S. Rep. Mia Love, of Utah, during a campaign rally Friday, Aug. 24, 2018, in Lehi, Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah voters on Tuesday will elect a new U.S. Senator to replace Orrin Hatch, choose whether U.S. Rep. Mia Love earns a third term and decide if the state should make medical marijuana legal.

Many voters have already sent in their ballots, with 27 of the state’s 29 counties offering mail-in balloting. As of Friday, nearly 513,000 ballots had been turned in — about 37 percent of the total active registered voters. More than two-thirds of the votes this election are expected to come by these ballots, which can also be dropped off at polling places.

Utah is also for the first time allowing unregistered voters to register on Election Day and cast a ballot.

Here’s a closer look at what’s at stake:

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ROMNEY SEEKS RETURN

Former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is considered a heavy favorite to defeat Democrat Jenny Wilson in the race to replace Sen. Orrin Hatch, who is retiring after serving more than 40 years in the Senate.

Republican voters outnumber Democrats by nearly 4-to-1 in the predominantly Mormon state, where Romney is revered. He was the first Mormon presidential nominee from a major party, and he helped turn around Salt Lake City’s 2002 Winter Olympics after a bribery scandal.

Wilson is a member of the Salt Lake County Council and is the daughter of a former mayor, but she faces long odds due to the demographics of the electorate and Romney’s status in Utah. The state has not sent a Democrat to the U.S. Senate since Hatch defeated Sen. Frank Moss in 1976.

A win by Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, would give Utah a political veteran with more gravitas than most rookie senators. For Republicans nationally, Romney is expected to serve as a moral counterweight to a president many in the GOP see as divisive and undignified.

Romney has softened his criticism of President Donald Trump during his Utah campaign. But he issued an online essay last week countering Trump’s characterization of the media as an “enemy of the people,” by saying a free press is essential to the “cause of freedom.”

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LOVE TRIES TO FEND OFF DEMOCRAT

Love, the first black female Republican in Congress, is trying to hold off a major challenge from Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams and a bid by the Democrats to flip the largely suburban district.

The race is expected to be the closest of the four House races. Republican incumbents Rob Bishop, Chris Stewart and John Curtis are expected to easily win their races.

McAdams has touted himself as a moderate and said he would not support Nancy Pelosi as House speaker in hopes of appealing to unaffiliated voters who account for 38 percent of the district’s voters. Republicans outnumber Democrats by nearly 3-to-1 in the district.

In her quest to win a third term, Love has tried to separate herself from President Trump on trade and immigration, while still backing the GOP-supported tax reform and asking voters to keep the House of Representatives in Republican hands.

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MEDICAL MARIJUANA: NOW OR LATER?

Utah residents will vote on a ballot initiative that would legalize medical marijuana. But win or lose, state leaders have vowed to join 30 other states in legalizing pot for people with certain conditions.

After months of fierce debate and campaigning, Mormon church leaders, state lawmakers and the governor — all opponents of the initiative — reached a compromise with medical marijuana advocates in which they agreed on parameters for a law that suited all sides.

If the ballot initiative passes, it will be revised to fit the compromise. If it fails, a new law will be drafted. Gov. Gary Herbert has promised to call a special session after the election to make that happen.

Mormon leaders had opposed the ballot proposal over fears it could lead to more broad use, but agreed to the compromise to allow access for people with serious medical needs. The faith had long frowned upon medical marijuana use because of a key church health code called the “Word of Wisdom,” which prohibits coffee as well as alcohol, tobacco and illegal drugs.

Medical marijuana advocates are backing the deal to avoid wrangling and uncertainty that could continue if the ballot initiative passes.

The ballot initiative would create a state-regulated growing and dispensing operation and allow people with certain medical conditions to use the drug in edible forms. It does not allow pot smoking.

Unlike the ballot initiative, the compromise won’t allow people to grow their own marijuana if they live too far from a dispensary. It also bars certain types of edible marijuana that could appeal to children, like cookies and brownies.

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For AP’s complete coverage of the U.S. midterm elections: http://apne.ws/APPolitics

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