Utah Democrats cross party lines to have political impact

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FILE- In this Jan. 31, 2020, file photo, Republican ex-Russia ambassador Jon Huntsman Jr. speaks during a debate for Utah's 2020 gubernatorial race, in Salt Lake City. The state's June 30 primary will decide the Republican nominee for the first open governors race in more than a decade. In a state that hasn't elected a Democratic governor in more than 40 years, the GOP nominee is an almost-certain winner. With four candidates still duking it out, the primary could be close. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

SALT LAKE CITY – They support police reform, LGBTQ rights and Medicaid expansion. But in deeply conservative Utah, thousands of liberal-leaning voters are registering as Republicans because they say it's the only way to have a political voice in a key election next week.

The state's June 30 primary will decide the Republican nominee for the first open governor’s race in more than a decade. In a state that hasn’t elected a Democratic governor in more than 40 years, the GOP nominee is an almost-certain winner.

Utah's outnumbered Democrats say they’ve found things to like in the GOP candidates for governor as Republican President Donald Trump plays to a deeply conservative base on the national level. They’re backing moderate candidates and hoping that casting their vote could help their issues get traction.

With four candidates still duking it out, the primary could be close. Democratic voters like Marina Gomberg of Salt Lake City aren’t willing to sit out the contest.

A newspaper columnist who chronicles her parenting adventures with her wife, Gomberg wants to help protect recent gains for LGBTQ people in Utah, including a ban on so-called conversion therapy for minors.

“I’m willing to change my affiliation in order to make the change I want to see,” she said. “If you want to be participating in politics you have to be a part of the Republican party.”

The new Republican registrations by Democrats are a reflection of the dominance of the GOP in Utah politics and the policy areas where the state's leaders have given ground, illustrating how Utah's bastion of conservatives are not always fans of the president.

Some high-profile Utah Democrats have encouraged voters to register as Republicans to vote in the primary, which is closed to non-members. In just a few months, the pool of registered Republicans increased by nearly 72,000 while the numbers of registered Democrats has shrunk by 10,000. Unaffiliated voters are down by 45,000, according to state data.