Misty Snow debates Republican Mike Lee in the 2016 United States Senate race in Utah. (Isaac Hale / Daily Herald)
An exclusive profile of Misty Snow, the first transgender Senate candidate, who is now running for Congress in Utah’s 2nd district.
On March 3, 2016, 31-year-old grocery store cashier Misty K. Snow filed for candidacy in the 2016 United States Senate race in Utah. Not only had she never run for public office before; Misty had never even participated in a formal debate or spoken on television. Nevertheless, despite her inexperience, she persisted.
Conservative Democrat Jonathan Swinton was expected to go unchallenged for the Democratic nomination. He had filed for candidacy all the way back in August 2015, giving him a massive advantage in terms of campaign infrastructure, fundraising, and name recognition. But progressives like Misty were deeply unhappy with him. She told me that his anti-choice and anti-LGBTQ positions in particular made her feel that someone needed to challenge him, and that someone might as well be her.
With the state convention just over a month away, Misty rushed to learn what she was doing. “I like to be in my room and play video games,” she said. “I didn’t even know county conventions were a thing.”
Misty went to the April 23 state convention expecting to lose. Only two volunteers were lined up to help her that day, one of them being her campaign manager, a 21-year-old political science student. Yet even without a strong base, Misty managed to pick up the endorsements of seven caucuses – the Stonewall Democrats, the Progressive Caucus, the Women’s Caucus, the Hispanic Caucus, the Asian Pacific Islander Caucus, the Young Democrats, and the Disability Caucus – while Swinton only received two caucus endorsements. Misty contrasted her progressiveness with Swinton’s conservatism, questioning if Democrats should really nominate an anti-choice conservative to face off against anti-choice conservative incumbent Mike Lee.
In order to win the nomination, a candidate needed 60% of the vote. Swinton received 56% to Misty’s 39% on the first ballot. After neither candidate received 60% on the second ballot, the race went to a primary. And on June 28, Misty managed to beat Swinton with 59% of the vote, winning in 24 of the 29 Utah counties.
She did not expect to win the primary, and she went into the general election expecting to lose as well. But her candidacy was already historic. Misty was both the first woman to ever appear on a general election ballot in the state of Utah and the first transgender nominee for the United States Senate.
With only $76,000, Misty ran an unabashedly progressive campaign against Republican Mike Lee, a Tea Party conservative and best friend of Ted Cruz. It was particularly interesting to see a transgender woman run against the man who introduced the First Amendment Defense Act (FADA) – the most anti-LGBTQ piece of federal legislation in modern history – to the Senate.
Lee, whose campaign raised almost $6 million, ended up crushing Misty in the general election by a whopping 41 points. Misty received just 27.1% of the vote, 0.4 less than Hillary Clinton received in the presidential election. She won through a plurality in just one county, by a single point.
Misty wasn’t surprised by her loss. She was actually proud of how she did. With 301,860 Utahns casting their ballot for her, she received almost 100,000 more votes than the 2010 Democratic candidate had. A Utah Democrat hasn’t even won election to the United States Senate since 1970. So while Misty was disappointed, she wasn’t discouraged.
In fact, Misty got right back up and launched a campaign for the United States House of Representatives. She is challenging incumbent Republican Chris Stewart in Utah’s 2nd congressional district, which Trump won with 46% of the vote to Hillary’s 32%. Though the district is solidly red and Stewart has won the past three elections with over 60% of the vote, Misty feels confident that voters can send her to Washington this time.
Misty said that with only a plurality of his constituents approving of his performance in the House and over 20% unaware of him, Stewart lacks the grassroots enthusiasm that she hopes will propel her campaign.
Rather than try to win over Trump voters, as many national Democratic organizations are focusing on, Misty understands that the easiest path to victory is mobilizing Democratic voters, who overwhelmingly stay home in midterm elections. Misty believes that the momentum of the Trump Resistance will help her capture urban areas in particular, where most Democratic Utahns are located.
While it’s still a long-shot, Trump is certainly unpopular in Utah. Over half of Utahns disapprove of Donald Trump, according to a May Dan Jones & Associates poll. And though he won Utah in November, he only received 45.5% of the vote, less than he received in New Hampshire, a state won by Hillary Clinton. That’s not a great sign for Republicans already plagued by bipartisan opposition to the AHCA.
With no inclination to bend over backwards for conservatives, Misty is again running a progressive campaign that could easily win over the Utah Democrats who delivered a 79.21% victory to Bernie Sanders in the Utah Democratic caucuses. While national Democrats debate over whether economic populism and social justice are compatible, As a working-class trans woman, Misty understands that the two are inherently intertwined. Her platform advocates for a $15 minimum wage, paid maternity leave, legalizing marijuana, campaign finance reform, tuition-free public college, Medicare-for-all, protecting Social Security, and civil rights for prisoners, women, LGBTQ folks, immigrants, and Native Americans.
“We can take back the House next year. We can stop the Trump agenda. We can fight for LGBT rights. We can fight for women’s rights, workers’ rights, clear air – but the only way to do that is for people to show up, organize, knock doors, donate to candidates, get out there, and participate. That’s how we make change.”
Jordan is the Head Writer at Millennial Politics. She is also an activist, cinephile, and proud queer woman of color.
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