Utah voters head to polls for statewide primaries

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah voters head to the polls Tuesday to decide a handful of key races in the state’s primary ahead of the November general election.

Races across the state include a challenge to incumbent U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch by former state Sen. Dan Liljenquist, the race to replace retiring Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, the presidential primary, with Mitt Romney the almost certain winner, one U.S. House seat and 17 state House and Senate seats.

Hatch barely missed the outright nomination at April’s convention, falling short by fewer than three dozen votes from the nearly 4,000 delegates.

Liljenquist has sought to capitalize on some of the momentum that saw the ouster of then-three-term GOP Sen. Bob Bennett in 2010, fueled by a tea party surge that is much less united this time around.

Liljenquist has argued that Hatch has supported wasteful spending and earmarks and that new representation is needed in Washington, while Hatch has trumpeted his experience and potential placement as chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee if he wins.

Also Tuesday, there are 17 state House and Senate primaries.

In the GOP presidential primary, Mitt Romney remains the favorite over challengers Ron Paul and Fred Karger.

Romney, a Mormon and graduate of Brigham Young University who oversaw the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, is a hugely popular figure in Utah, where more than 60 percent of residents are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He took 90 percent of the vote in Utah’s 2008 presidential primary.

Two Republicans are vying to replace Shurtleff, including his chief deputy, John Swallow. Shurtleff is stepping aside after a dozen years in office. He has been at forefront of national issues, including immigration policy and identity theft.

The winner in the race between Swallow and Salt Lake City attorney Sean Reyes will advance to face Weber County Attorney Dee Smith, the only Democratic contender, in the general election.

Shurtleff has endorsed Swallow, his chief lieutenant since 2009.

In the only U.S. House primary, two Democratic political newcomers face off for the right to challenge Republican incumbent Rob Bishop in District 1, which encompasses 10 counties from the northern end of the state through Kaysville, and Park City after redistricting.

Ryan Combe, of South Ogden faces Park City’s Donna McAleer.

Combe, 31, has worked as an entrepreneur, consultant and university marketing director. McAleer, 46, is a West Point graduate and former Army platoon leader who nearly qualified for the 2002 Olympics as a female bobsled team driver.

Combe and McAleer both have supported gay marriage, while Bishop voted in favor of the constitutional amendment banning it.

Bishop, 60, of Brigham City, is seeking his sixth term in Congress.

Combe bills himself as “a new generation” candidate making his first run at elected office, and says Utah voters want new leadership in Washington from a lifelong resident of the state.

“The biggest thing I learned since starting this process is that we have lots of people in the community fighting for things and working hard to make it a better place,” Combe said. “What we need in government are people to facilitate.”

McAleer, who is from Boston but has lived in Park City for 13 years, is hoping to become just the fourth woman to represent Utah in Congress.

She says she has what it takes to bridge gaps and build consensus.

“We need someone who has a broad perspective and ability to bring disparate people from disparate sides together,” McAleer said.

In the governor’s race, two Constitution Party candidates challenge each other to run against an uncontested Democrat and GOP Gov. Gary Herbert in November.

Homebuilders Kirk Pearson and Brandon Nay say they’ve been friends for years and would be happy if either one of them wins the primary to challenge Herbert and Democrat Peter Cooke, a retired two-star general. Utah has not elected a Democratic governor since Scott Matheson in 1980.

“I can’t say I’m the better candidate out of the two of us, but either one of us will be better than what we got,” Nay said.

West Valley City Mayor Mike Winder is hoping GOP voters select him to run for Salt Lake County mayor despite his brush with notoriety from writing news stories for Utah outlets under a false name.

Winder faces management consultant Mark Crockett, a former county council member.

Crockett said voters question Winder’s trustworthiness after he admitted to writing flattering stories about his city under a false name for area publications. Winder believes voters will forgive him.

Winder said he’ll be more aggressive on economic development than incumbent Mayor Peter Corroon, who is not seeking re-election, while Crockett said he’s the only candidate with business experience.

The GOP winner in that race will face state Democratic Sen. Ben McAdams in the general election.

AP writers Lynn DeBruin and Paul Foy contributed to this report.

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