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GOP sweeps top ticket races as polls close

Associated Press Modified: November 6, 2012 at 10:16 pm •  Published: November 6, 2012
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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney easily won Utah in Tuesday's general election, while Gov. Gary Herbert secured a win and U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch defeated his Democratic challenger to serve a seventh term in office.

Romney was virtually assured a victory in the heavily Mormon state where he oversaw the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, while Republicans in numerous other state and federal races also were poised for wins.

The tightest race, however, remained over the newly-created District 4 where incumbent six-term Democratic U.S. Rep. Jim Matheson, 52, faced Republican Mia Love.

Love, 36, a Mormon and the daughter of Haitian immigrants, gained momentum after scoring a coveted speaking slot at the Republican National Convention, and garnering endorsements and fundraising help from Ann Romney, GOP Arizona Sen. John McCain and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

The mayor of Saratoga Springs held a slight lead in the polls, and stands to become the nation's first black GOP woman in Congress if she wins, knocking out Utah's only Democratic representative in Washington. Matheson took a chance at running in the new, more urban District 4, rather than his sprawling, remapped District 2 that covers most of southwest Utah.

Voters on Tuesday also chose to re-elect Hatch over Democrat Scott Howell, who garnered headlines recently when he made the incumbent's age and the senator's 36 years in office a major point of his campaign. Howell, 58, sent emails to voters suggesting the 78-year-old might retire or die before the end of his term.

Hatch's campaign countered that the longtime incumbent had no plans to do either.

"I'll do the best I can for my seventh term," Hatch said after being declared the winner Tuesday night. "I will be the most senior Republican in the Senate. This will be my last term."

In a GOP sweep for the top ticket races, Herbert defeated Democratic challenger Peter Cooke, a retired Army general, to serve his first full term.

Herbert, 65, became governor in 2009 when then-Gov. Jon Huntsman joined the Obama administration as the ambassador to China. He had been the heavy favorite in a state that has not elected a Democratic governor since Scott Matheson in 1980.

"I'm honored to get four more years as governor of Utah," Herbert said. "It's humbling to have this victory tonight."

Across the state, Republicans held major leads over Democrats. Romney, a Mormon and graduate of Brigham Young University, had broad support in Utah, where more than 60 percent of residents are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, despite not winning the endorsement of the state's largest newspaper.

In an Oct. 19 endorsement of President Obama, The Salt Lake Tribune wrote that Romney has flip-flopped on too many issues over the years, using the headline, "Too Many Mitts. Obama has earned another term."

Utahns also cast ballots in three other congressional races, and were deciding a host of statewide offices, including attorney general, state auditor, treasurer and 101 legislative seats.

Republican John Swallow held an early lead over Democratic challenger Dee Smith in the race for Utah Attorney General. Swallow has been chief deputy under current Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, who is retiring, while Smith serves as Weber County attorney.

Two constitutional amendments also were on the ballot.

One initiative would decide whether members of the military should be exempt from property taxes if they serve on active duty out of state at least 200 days a year. They could claim the exemption for their primary residence the year after service was completed.

The second amendment would determine whether some of Utah's severance tax revenue from mining, oil and gas companies should be deposited into a rainy-day fund. State lawmakers then could only spend from the fund's principal in an emergency and with approval from the governor and three-fourths of the state Senate and House.

In other congressional races, Democrat Jay Seegmiller, an Amtrak conductor and former state legislator, faced Republican newcomer Chris Stewart, a former Air Force pilot, environmental consultant and author, for the District 2 seat vacated by Matheson.

Meanwhile, incumbents held solid leads in the two other U.S. House races. In District 1, five-term incumbent Rep. Rob Bishop was favored to win over Democratic political newcomer Donna McAleer, of Park City, the director of a health care nonprofit. In District 3, covering southeast suburbs of Salt Lake City to the Arizona and Colorado borders, U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz also was heavily favored to beat Democrat Soren Simonsen, an architect and the chairman of the Salt Lake City Council.