Candidates for Utah’s 1st District Congressional seat square off in a debate Thursday evening. The debate begins at 6 p.m. and will be broadcast live on 102.1 FM / 102.5 FM / 610 AM KVNU and streamed on kvnutalk.com.
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The bid to represent a sprawling congressional district in northern Utah is an open race for the first time in nearly two decades following the retirement of Republican U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop who became well-known for his outspoken policies on public lands.
The battle involves two candidates vying for the middle ground amid an increasingly bitter political divide in the United States. The Republican candidate Blake Moore, a conservative Salt Lake City businessman, is favored to win in a heavily Republican district that has not elected a Democrat to the seat in more than 40 years. Moore has said he’ll vote to re-elect President Donald Trump but declined to elaborate on the president’s policies.
Democratic candidate Darren Parry, a former Shoshone tribe chairman, is looking to beat those odds and end the drought. He is running as a moderate and says he will prioritize marginalized communities on issues related to the coronavirus pandemic and racial injustice.
The two candidates will square off Thursday night in a debate.
The race could be the best shot Democrats have at filling the seat in the coming decade now that a Republican candidate no longer holds an incumbency advantage, said Damon Cann, a political science professor at Utah State University. The district is 12% Democrat with nearly 52% of voters registered as Republican and 36% as unaffiliated or third-party voters, according to state elections data.
“The right strategy is to run moderate in this district,” said Cann. “The opportunity would have clearly been squandered if they nominated a core leftist.”
Moore and Parry agree on several key policy areas: both are pro-life, support the Second Amendment and have vowed to keep taxes low. But they differ on the subject of public lands, which continues to be a top priority for the district’s voters.
Moore’s views on public lands most closely align with those of Bishop, who was roundly criticized for embracing President Donald Trump’s decision to reduce by nearly 85% the Bears Ears National Monument — a national monument established by President Barack Obama in 2016. Moore said he supports transferring land back to Utah in some instances so that the state can dictate how it is used.
“This all comes down to balance and making sure we’re being thoughtful about how we go about doing it,” said Moore.
Parry, meanwhile, is wholly against ceding control of public lands to Utah because he fears the state would sell them to extraction industries or private landowners. Native groups were among those pushing for the creation of Bears Ears, and said that such designations are needed to protect important archaeological and cultural resources.
“I will fight every day to make sure public lands stay public, stay under federal control,” Parry said.
Neither candidate has run for political office before this race, but Moore says his experience working in the foreign service in southeast Asia and his current role at Cicero Group, a management consulting firm, makes him uniquely positioned to represent Utah because of his exposure to many areas of the private and public sectors.
Parry, meanwhile, said being a tribal leader has taught him how to build bridges with local communities and the federal government — a trait he says would be especially useful in a polarized Congress.
Since his primary victory, Parry has come under scrutiny for several child support liens the state sought against him to collect about $70,000 in arrears that he owed his ex-wife. Parry says the state’s legal action resulted from a misunderstanding and that he paid back the missing child support. His ex-wife has said that Parry made partial and sporadic payments but she later signed a document that released him from the unpaid support.
John Page of Plain City said he likes both candidates but is now leaning toward Parry because his stance on public lands differs greatly from Bishop’s. Page is a Democrat but registered as a Republican to vote for Moore in the June primaries with the hope that he would beat some of his more conservative opponents.
“As long as we’ve got somebody in there who will not proceed down that road that Bishop pushed for years in selling off our public lands… that would be best,” said Page, who is a teacher at a technical college.
Craig Johnson of Sunset is an unaffiliated voter who plans to vote for Moore because of his character and pragmatism. Johnson says he supports Rep. Ben McAdams, Utah’s sole Democratic congressman, and thinks he and Moore are very similar in how they conduct themselves.
“The thing that really sealed it for me was Blake didn’t have the vitriolic rhetoric that I heard from a lot of the other candidates,” said Johnson, who is also a teacher. “We need to be electing people of character.”
Sophia Eppolito is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.