Utah Democrats have historically been at an electoral disadvantage when it comes to congressional races, but a wave of younger progressive candidates are deciding to run anyway.
Democrat James Singer filed last week to run against seven-term Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch in next year’s race.
The 34-year-old Singer is a sociology professor, a Mormon and the first Navajo to run for U.S. Senate in Utah.
He says his decision to run resulted from seeing more indigenous people speak out over issues like the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota and the Bear Ears National Monument here.
“I think it’s time for a new generation of voices to be heard," he says. "To have those whose voices have been largely ignored or forgotten — and being a sociologist myself, I look at these things all the time.”
Democratic Salt Lake City Councilwoman Jenny Wilson has also formed an exploratory committee for Hatch’s seat.
Singer says he plans to run a campaign largely modeled after the grassroots movement built by Sen. Bernie Sanders during his 2016 presidential run.
“What he tried to do was really kind of unprecedented, and so in that way we can see it as a success," he says of the small contributions that fueled Sanders' run.
"People who are using that model will figure out better and more effective ways to use that kind of funding model.”
Singer is the just the latest in a string of progressive Utahns — who've never held political office before — announcing their candidacies early in hopes of building name recognition and support among the party’s delegates ahead of the primary.
Ben Frank, 29, is planning to run for the 3rd Congressional District seat being vacated by Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz. And former Senate candidate Misty Snow, 31, is planning to challenge Rep. Chris Stewart in the 2nd Congressional District.
Matthew Burbank, assistant professor of political science at the University of Utah, says Utah Democrats are having the same debate the party has been waging since the bruising primary between Hillary Clinton and Sen. Sanders.
"So there's always this problem of trying to figure out Democratic candidates that Democrats want and yet on the other hand, gives them the best chance of doing well in a general election," he says. "There’s no perfect way to resolve that problem. It’s been a tension for Utah Democrats for a while, and it will continue to be.”
Burbank says the future of the party and its two factions depends on how Democrats fare in the midterm elections.