PROVIDENCE – Candidate Darren Parry offers no apologies about running as an old-fashioned, moderate Democrat to replace outgoing U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop in Congress.
“Sure, I’m running as a Democrat,” says Parry, a former leader of the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation tribe in Brigham City. “But when it comes down to representing our values or supporting the Democratic Party’s agenda, I’m going to vote for the people of Utah’s 1st Congressional District every time.”
Parry made no secret of that seemingly heretical attitude during the run-up to the Democratic state convention on April 25 and still emerged as the frontrunner against rival candidate Jamie Cheek of Ogden.
Cheek, a hard-left progressive Democrat, tried to make Parry’s maverick stance against party dogma an issue in the subsequent Democratic primary, even outing her opponent as having pro-life sensibilities. In a cliffhanger ending, Parry topped Cheek in the June 30 balloting by about 400 votes.
“I have a theory about why the primary outcome was so close” Parry explains. “When I saw that Sen. Bernie Sanders won the presidential primary in Utah back in March, it seemed apparent that the Democratic voters here have become pretty progressive … So I didn’t expect much support from the hard-core Democrats (in the primary).
“Then I also got hurt when so many independents who would normally have supported a moderate candidate like me registered as Republicans in order to vote in the gubernatorial race in the GOP primary.”
With the November general election ahead, Parry still isn’t betting the bank on Democratic voters. The candidate says he’s shopping just as hard for independent voters and even Republicans as he is for moderate Democrats.
That’s not just a savvy campaign strategy, it’s also a survival imperative for Democratic candidates here.
Utah is widely regarded as the most staunchly Republican state in America. Utah’s 1st Congressional District is not only considered to be the most solidly Republican one in the state, it is also believed to be the 13th most conservative one of the 435 districts in the country.
Of the nearly 150,000 ballots cast by 1st District voters in both party primaries on June 30, only 15 percent were cast by Democrats and unaffiliated voters.
Utah’s 1st Congressional District sprawls over a large portion of northern Utah, including all or parts of Cache, Box Elder, Davis, Daggett, Duchesne, Morgan, Rich, Summit, Uintah and Weber counties. While Cache County is by no means typical of all of those areas, County Clerk Jill Zollinger says that Democrats make up only 10 percent of the county’s active registered voters while unaffiliated voters represent another 27 percent.
But Parry still believes that he can flip the GOP stronghold for the first time in 42 years.
“I look at this admittedly gerrymandered district, which is full of Republicans, and I think that I can get some of those Republicans to vote for me if they’ll look fairly at my message,” Parry says candidly. “I believe that’s a better strategy than trying to change my views enough to appeal to dyed-in-the-wool Democrats.
“I’ve been to every corner of the 1st District,” he recalls. “I’ve worked in Box Elder County, grew up in Davis County and spent most of my married life in Weber County … I think the people of northern Utah believe, as I do, that what this country needs are leaders who can work with anybody and are willing to actually sit down and solve problems. And, at the end of the day, those solutions have to be the best possible ones for the people of the United States, not for the decision-makers’ political parties.”