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The Challengers

Two Democrats square off to take on Sen. Mike Lee



Two Democrats are challenging Mike Lee (R) for his Senate seat in November. Misty Snow and Jonathan Swinton will square off in a primary election on June 28, trying to convince Democrats from Logan to St. George that they are the one who could topple Lee. City Weekly sat down with both candidates to get a sense of how they might do that.

Along with working as a cashier at Harmons, Misty Snow is an activist for LGBT rights whose message is modeled on the strongly progressive tone of Bernie Sanders' campaign. "I think there are a lot of people who feel like Congress and the Senate don't represent them because there aren't a lot of working-class people there," Snow says. "We look at our representation and all we see are all of these millionaires, and lawyers, and business-owners, and bankers. There needs to be more representation for actual people."

Snow has based her campaign on workers' rights issues. "I want to do whatever I can to help the working-class of America. I want to see the minimum wage raised to a working wage, and I think it can be done," she says. "There's a lot of popular support for raising wages, and I think if we implement it over a few years, and then attach it to inflation thereafter, it can be done. It also shocks me that we don't have paid maternity leave in this country for mothers; we are the only country in the world [with a developed economy] without it."

Snow continues, "You would think it would be the easiest thing to do politically because every single person out there knows someone who has given birth. I think we could win on a lot of these issues."

Jonathan Swinton works as a marriage and family therapist and is focusing much of his campaign on access to healthcare. "We've got to rein in the pharmaceutical industry and the ballooning costs of medications that are desperately needed," Swinton says. "The people who are hit the hardest with pharmaceutical needs often have the least amount of money, like the elderly. I see us, as Americans, as having a responsibility to take care of one another. I don't think a single-payer system would be as simple or as good as some people think it would be. The Congress has a Republican majority, so we need to be looking for a pragmatic approach that will get bipartisan support."

Swinton says he would also like to see expanded coverage to mental health services like marriage and family counseling. "So many insurers just won't touch my industry," he says, "even though the services we provide are so vitally crucial for so many."

Swinton has been in the race since last summer, while Snow announced her campaign in March. Swinton was widely expected to easily win the required 60 percent at the Utah State Democrat Convention on April 23 to win the nomination and avoid a primary fight, but Snow's campaign picked up steam at the end, winning her 45 percent and holding Swinton to 55 percent.

Snow's surprise success was largely thanks to an op-ed Swinton penned for The Salt Lake Tribune in September of 2015, which was circulated at the convention among the Democratic delegates.

In the op-ed, Swinton described himself as a "conservative Democrat," and joined the national conservatives' call for an investigation of Planned Parenthood. Snow says those statements, and Swinton's call for Planned Parenthood funding to be redirected elsewhere, are two of the reasons she decided to run.

Swinton acknowledges the op-ed has hurt his campaign, saying, "I've certainly taken a lot of heat for this. I jumped on the bandwagon [with Gov. Herbert, Rep. Jason Chaffetz and others] because I felt Planned Parenthood could better show that they're not using federal funds for abortions. My pro-life stance is deeply rooted in me; I'm not going to hide from that. But I do feel a woman should have the right to choose in the circumstances of rape, incest or life-of the mother. Those are circumstances where I saw in my previous role as a victim-advocate that a woman should have the right to make that choice. But people [in the party] want me to come out and say I'm pro-choice, and I'm not going to say it."

Swinton hopes the election doesn't focus on that particular issue, and says he hopes that those voters who might have a problem with his stance will be comforted to know that he is strongly in favor of access to contraception and prenatal care.

No matter who emerges victorious in the June 28 primary, they're going to have a huge uphill battle against incumbent Lee.

Snow says that she is focusing her campaign on the millennial generation. "We have more millennials in Utah per capita than in any other state, about 46 percent of our citizens who are of voting age are millennials, and many—if not most—just aren't voting. We need to engage them and the only way to do that is to nominate a candidate that excites them, and I'm going to excite them a lot more than a conservative Democrat will."

Swinton, meanwhile, says he is planning on spending a lot of time in rural Utah, where he believes his message will resonate with voters who are sick of Washington, D.C., politics. "Washington needs a marriage counselor, I've spent a career helping people who hate each other come to terms, deal with their differences, and find solutions and compromise. Compromise isn't a swear word, you know."

One thing Swinton and Snow agree on: They both believe that if the Republicans nominate Donald Trump, it could provide the opening they need in November. "If there's going to be a chance for a Democrat to win statewide in Utah, it's going to be right here, right now, in 2016" Snow says.