50 States in 50 Days Election Preview: 45. Utah

In the 50 days leading up to the election on November 6th, I will be doing a profile of the 50 states and previewing what is on the ballot and how they are likely to vote. All of the posts so far can be found here

45. Utah

Capital: Salt Lake City

Nickname: Beehive State

Motto: Industry

About the State

Prior to the arrival of European settlers, Utah was home to several tribes of Native Americans including the Shoshone, Ute and Navajo.  The first from the Old World to claim the area were the Spanish, who controlled the area from Mexico north into the modern-day United States, which they called Alta (Upper) California.  At the same time as the US was gaining Independence from Great Britain, Spanish explorers travelled as far as the Utah Lake when they were in search of the Pacific Ocean.  The region became part of Mexico when they gained their autonomy from Spain in 1821, then – under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848, which ended the Mexican-American War – the United States gained control of Utah.

A year before it the region had officially been recognised as being part of America, members of the Church of Latter Day Saints – also known as the Mormons – under the leadership of Brigham Young, had entered the Salt Lake Valley and began the process of establishing settlements there.  The group – who had left Nauvoo, Illinois following the death of their founder, Joseph Smith – struggled to survive in the barren desert lands, but believed they had to be somewhere that remote in order to be free to practice their religion.  In 1849, Young wished to set up a government that would be accepted by the United States, so he sent John Milton Bernhisel to Washington D.C. to petition for the creation of the Territory of Deseret – which encompassed the area that included the modern-day states of Utah and Nevada, as well as parts of California, Wyoming, Idaho, Oregon and New Mexico.  The size of the suggested Territory was the main reason it failed but, the following year, as part of the Compromise of 1850 – which resolved the dispute between free and slave states about the land the US had acquired at the end of the Mexican-American War – the Utah Territory was organised, which included the current state’s borders, as well as the majority of Nevada.

During the late 1850s, President James Buchanan and others in the Federal Government were concerned of a rebellion by the Utah Territory, had issues with the theodemocracy that existed there under the Governorship of Brigham Young, and were particularly perturbed by the Mormons practicing polygamy.  This resulted in a conflict between the United States and members of the Latter Day Saints church which, although it involved no battles and was mostly resolved through negotiations, was not completely without bloodshed.  120 settlers heading for California from Arkansas were killed in southern Utah by Mormons in September of 1857 and, the following month, six Californians passing through the state were accused of being spies for the US Army and were killed.  After a lengthy standoff between the two parties, Young was replaced as Governor by Alfred Cumming and the matter was settled, but President Buchanan was heavily criticised for his handling of the situation, in particular for sending troops to the Territory to investigate an alleged rebellion, without ascertaining for sure that one existed.  Plural marriages in the Mormon community hindered Utah’s aspirations for statehood for many years and it was only after the LDS Manifesto of 1890, which ended the church’s approval of polygamy, that a renewed application was accepted, allowing Utah to become the 45th state of the Union on January 4th, 1896.

It is the 13th biggest state and, with just over 2.8 million residents, it ranks as the 34th most populous.  Tourism is one of its main economic sectors, with the state having five National Parks within its borders – Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Arches, Capitol Reef and Zion – alongside being popular for winter sports such as skiing.  The other major industries in Utah are agriculture, where its main products are hay, barley, corn and livestock; and the mining of minerals like copper, gold and silver, as well as fossil fuels, including coal, petroleum and natural gas.  There is one “Big Four” sports team located in Salt Lake City, the Utah Jazz of the NBA, while the town of Levan – which is “navel” spelled backwards – is in the geographic center of the state.

Presidential Race

Electoral College Votes: 6

2008 Result: McCain 62.9% Obama 34.2%

Latest Poll: Romney +51%

Governor Romney, a Mormon, will win Utah by a wide margin, but any Republican candidate would also emerge victorious from a state that has only voted for a Democrat in a Presidential election once in the last fifteen contests (LBJ in 1964).

Also on the Ballot

Congress: There is on Senate election in Utah this year, as Sen. Orrin Hatch (R) seeks re-election against his Democratic Party opponent, Scott Howell, with Hatch certain to win a seventh term in a state that hasn’t elected a Democrat to the Senate since the 1970s.

After redistricting following the 2010 census, the number of Representatives in the House that Utah has will be increased by one to four.  The current delegation is made up of one Democrats and two Republicans, with the race for the new, 4th district, currently a toss-up between Mia Howell (R) and Rep. Jim Matheson (D), who currently represents the 2nd district.

Gubernatorial: Governor Gary Herbert (R) is seeking re-election against Democratic challenger, Peter Cooke, with Herbert currently 36 points ahead in the polls and appears sure to secure a second term in office.

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