This memo provides an overview of the Utah legislative races in 2020, providing a breakdown of fundraising, communications, voter and district demographics, and results per seat. This memo looks at statewide numbers, and provides a review of communications, and how those communications might have affected the course of the race.

The Research Questions

  • Can the Utah Legislature be made competitive (within five seats of flipping either chamber of the legislature)?
  • If so, what is the appropriate funding level?
  • What is the role of the third party in this analysis?

Key Take Aways

  • Republicans out raised Democrats nearly 3-1 overall. However, they only spent 25% more than Democrats on total Legislative spending on campaign communications to voters.
  • At least 10 legislative seats in the State House and 1 State Senate seat were within the competitive +8 margins. The average Democratic Paid Comms spend per vote was $1.23 while the average Republican Paid Comms spend per vote was $0.61. Democrats could have picked up at least 3 more seats in the House with even $1 per vote increase in Paid Comms Spending (an average of $10,000 per race).
  • Both party candidates spent Paid Comms $ on a wide array of communication tools, even though most of these voters likely never saw enough messaging. Not enough data is available to suggest that, beyond an increase of spending, that these messages were effective in moving the needle. With larger funding, we could determine the true efficacy of these messages.
  • Democrats have a high chance of Breaking the Supermajority through winning the 10 seats in Salt Lake, Weber, and Utah Counties.
  • Utah statewide turnout for the President in 2020 was (1,488,289) compared to 2016 (1,140,849), a movement of 300,000 more voters this past election. The turnout for the legislative races was 1,386,955 individual voters. With many races only marginally closer than the 2016 cycle, the likely problem is resources invested in communication rather than a turnout challenge.

Statewide Topline Metrics

Here are the following top line metrics for the legislative races as a whole:

Democratic Performance

  • Vote Share: 31.1%
  • Dollars Raised: $1,311,024.26
  • COH (Most updated): $371,111.94
  • Paid Communications Dollars (HR): $489,158.79
  • Dollars Per Vote: $1.23

Republican Performance

  • Vote Share: 65.7%
  • Dollars Raised:$1,741,565.10
  • COH (Most updated): $724,533.49
  • Paid Communications Dollars (HR): $373,589.45
  • Dollars Per Vote: $0.61
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Top 10 Races Topline Metrics

  • Votes Earned/ % of Vote: 5,252 (49.3%)
  • Dollars Raised: $45,338
  • Dollars Spent on Paid Communication: $25,626
  • Dollar Per Democratic Vote: $4.88 per vote

Fatima Dirie Campaign Analysis

Fatima Dirie for the Utah House District 33 in West Valley City against Craig Hall. A former refugee from Somalia, Fatima Dirie resettled in Salt Lake City with her family in 1997 while still in middle school.  Her family escaped war back home, first finding refuge in neighboring Kenya, then ultimately finding safety and an opportunity to pursue the American Dream in Utah.  Fatima Dirie is the Policy Advisor for Refugees and New Americans in Mayor Mendenhall’s inaugural administration at the Salt Lake City Mayor’s Office. 

Campaign Website can be found here.

Analysis: Fatima ran a program of 6 mail pieces, combined with a field program, and rented billboard signs. Given the high turnout statewide, turnout was not an issue this race. Rather, the main challenge in this race with available funds was broad spending on too many forms of communication. In a state like Virginia, this mail plan would have carried at least 6 more pieces of mail, and funds were siphoned off to other methods of communication that are less effective in moving the needle. An increase of $12,000 in direct mail would have likely carried Fatima over the hill.

  • Votes Earned/ % of Vote: 9,671 (49.8%)
  • Dollars Raised: $58,771.89
  • Dollars Spent on Paid Communication: 18,167.04
  • Dollar Per Democratic Vote: $1.88 per vote

Wendy Davis Campaign Analysis

Campaign Website can be found here

Wendy Davis ran in State House 45 in the communities of Cottonwood Heights, Midvale, Sandy and White City in Salt Lake County. Wendy is a family values candidate who ran a family values campaign. She focused on bread and butter economic issues like education and healthcare, and also had a government accountability platform as well.

Analysis: Wendy had one of the closest races in the state house this year. Her paid communications spending focused on direct mail and field operations. Her direct mail spending was $12,000 estimated, while the remaining was spent on paid organizing. Some funds were spent on paid emails, and some digital ads. A fundraising program with a fundraiser, early acquisition of emails and call time targets could have made money more available early, allowing for earlier spending and a heavier mail program. A dedicated full time field organizer would have been beneficial in this race, either as a replacement for paid canvassers or, as money allowed, to manage the program.

  • Votes Earned/ % of Vote: 7,752 (49.7%)
  • Dollars Raised: $55,053.29
  • Dollars Spent on Paid Communication: $20,611.35
  • Dollar Per Democratic Vote: $2.66 per vote

Lynette Wendell Campaign Analysis

Campaign Website can be found here.

Lynette Wendel has served her home community in Taylorsville for more than 15 years as a volunteer who is committed to public service, advocacy and working for improved conditions for everyone in the community, not just the powerful and influential. Over the course of 10 years, Lynette gained extensive knowledge and experience as Center Director for a K-12 supplemental education center and in post-secondary school admissions. This unique exposure to such a wide-spectrum of education, along with her personal connection to the students, parents, educators and administrators, led Lynette to her career path in mediation. Lynette and her husband, Mark, have been proud members of the Taylorsville community since 1995. Most telling about her personality, Lynette believes her candidacy for Representative of Utah House District 39 is not about her, but the community and team of people who rely on her and who need someone to truly represent their voice.

Analysis: The second closest race in the state house, Wendy’s election had the second lowest per vote spend. Half the spending was used on printing, and the rest was spent on digital ads. Without data on direct mail spends for the state party, the Lynette campaign needed a strong direct mail program of 6-7 mail pieces to get the bare majority. The turnout and breakdown suggest this district is imminently winnable, and candidate Wendell should consider running again.

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  • Votes Earned/ % of Vote: 10,353 (46.2%)
  • Dollars Raised: $43,285.55
  • Dollars Spent on Paid Communication: $5,305.51
  • Dollar Per Democratic Vote: $0.51 per vote

Siamake Khadjeneroy Campaign Analysis

Campaign Website can be found here.

Siamake ran in House District 49, representing Cottonwood Heights, Sandy, and Granite in Salt Lake County. Siamake is an immigrant from Iran. His family came to the US during the Iranian Revolution, right before the Hostage Crisis. He is a doctor working in substance abuse and mental health, and a partner and CEO of Altrium Health Center in West Jordan Valley. He lives with his wife Lisa and has two children.

Analysis: Siamake’s paid communications spending was the lowest of all the races within the 10% margins. He gave $500 to the Utah State Party for mail, and spent the rest on digital ads, newspaper ads, and some field operations services. He did spend on consultant salaries, but the purpose was not explained. given his dollar spend, this race could have been a lot closer with an aggressive direct mail and digital spend. A stronger fundraising program would also have built allowed investments in on the ground staff for field operations.

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  • Votes Earned/ % of Vote: 11,999 (45.7%)
  • Dollars Raised: $24,749.77
  • Dollars Spent on Paid Communication: $16,729.96
  • Dollar Per Democratic Vote: $1.39 per vote

Meaghan Miller Campaign Analysis

Campaign Website can be found here

Meaghan Miller ran for House District 54 in Wasatch County, stretching from Silver Summit and Park City to the eastern border of Utah. Meaghan has over a decade of experience with healthcare policy and clinical care. She is currently the Executive Director of EATS, a 501(c)(3) a food-focused nonprofit serving Summit County. Additionally, she sits on the Advisory Board for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Utah and, she is involved in civil liberties advocacy. Meaghan is a member of multiple coalitions advocating for policies to improve social equity. Areas such as patient access to healthcare, social detriments of health, education, and working families especially important to her. She and her husband Dylan have two sons.

Analysis: Her largest expenditure, $9,000 was spent on direct mail given to the Utah State Party. The rest of the funds were spent digital ads and field operations. The per vote spend was very low, yet she is within the 10% margins, making her race competitive. A stronger direct mail campaign, combined with a strong field spend, would have made this race more competitive.

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  • Votes Earned/ % of Vote: 9,301 (44.9%)
  • Dollars Raised: $81,936.22
  • Dollars Spent on Paid Communication: $10,357.21
  • Dollar Per Democratic Vote: $1.11 per vote

Suzanne Harrison Campaign Analysis

Campaign Website can be found here

Rep. Suzanne Harrison is a former state house representative for District 32 from Salt Lake County, representing Sandy, South Jordan, Draper and White City. She is a doctor by profession. She is a self-described moderate who is proud of her bi-partisan record working on issues such as healthcare, education, safe drinking water, and improved air quality. She is a member of LDS, and her faith and religion are important parts of her personal and political life. The position on abortion makes her a true political moderate according to the primary Democratic litmus test, and is the only candidate among the battleground districts to state this as such.

Analysis: This was her first re-election, and was the only incumbent Democrat to lose her re-election. Among the battleground races, her fundraising was the highest, while here paid comms spending was low. Her spending was a combination of direct mail and constituent communications, but was too low to have a major impact on this margin. Her earlier spending in her primary period included volunteer and swag related purchases upwards over $5,000, funds that might have helped close the gap in electoral margin. While the margin of loss is high for an incumbent, it is unclear whether a higher direct mail spend would have tipped the scales of this race.

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  • Votes Earned/ % of Vote: 7,239 (50.9%)
  • Dollars Raised: $53,064.32
  • Dollars Spent on Paid Communication: $32,125.83
  • Dollar Per Democratic Vote: $4.44 per vote

Clare Collard Campaign Analysis

Campaign Website can be found here

Clare Collard represents District 22 in Slat Lake County, which includes the cities of Magna, West Jordan Valley, West Valley City, Kearns, Copperton, and Salt Lake City. Clare is the business services manager at Cypress Credit Union. She volunteers with local community causes, and has served for 15 years on the Social Service Block Grant Allocation Board. She lives with her husband Que in Magna, where she serves on the Magna Township Planning Commission.

Analysis: She successfully achieved re-election with, on balance, the best campaign in terms of financial spending to dollars raised. Working with Landslide Political, she spent a sizable portion of her budget on direct mail, and then spending on digital ads and field operations. Her fundraising overall could be stronger, with a stronger emphasis on individual fundraising.

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  • Votes Earned/ % of Vote: 6,143 (51.7%)
  • Dollars Raised: $42,477.36
  • Dollars Spent on Paid Communication: $11,153.95
  • Dollar Per Democratic Vote: $$1.82 per vote

Ashlee Matthews Campaign Analysis

Campaign website can be found here

Ashlee Matthews ran for District 38 in Salt Lake County, which includes Kearns, West Jordan and West Valley City. Ashlee served the last nine years for the Utah Department of Transportation. Her husband is a Union Pipefitter, and they have two small boys in the home. Ashlee’s campaign was focused on a working families platform, with a focus on transportation, education, and the environment.

Analysis: Among the battleground races, Ashlee’s campaign was the most progressive. While her margin was not comfortable, it is strong relative to other Red-to-blue candidates. She ran direct mail and some digital ads, along with field operations. Like other candidates, she uses FundHero in her donations, which cuts of her candidacy from outside democratic groups using the more widely accepted fundraising medium, ActBlue. Her campaign needs in the future a stronger digital fundraising campaign.

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  • Votes Earned/ % of Vote: 7,054 (51.0%)
  • Dollars Raised: $15,611.26
  • Dollars Spent on Paid Communication: $8,017.68
  • Dollar Per Democratic Vote: $1.14 per vote

LaWanna Lou Shurtliff

LaWanna “Lou” Shurtliff was a representative for District 10. She passed away on December 31st, 2020. Her replacement will be chosen by Democratic Delegates from her district. She was the only Democrat serving from outside of Salt Lake County.

Analysis: The appointed candidate will run for election in 2022 under near-incumbency conditions, with name recognition and support that comes with being an incumbent legislator.

Meet the Authors

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Keith Brannum is a fundraising strategist and Principle of Break the Ceiling, LLC. He has managed and fundraised for campaigns in Virginia, Michigan, and North Carolina.

Aron Mujumber works with Mamman Group. He has managed campaigns in Virginia.